Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Professor Rod Morgan, HM Chief Inspector of Probation

  It may be helpful if I set out what I take to be some of the major issues currently affecting the work of the Probation Service and its performance. At the close I give a brief indication of what HMIP is doing.

1.  THE SENTENCING TREND SINCE 1990

  Substantially greater proportionate use of custodial sentences and significantly reduced proportionate use of fines for roughly the same number of defendants. Slightly increased proportionate use of community sentences. Offenders who would a decade ago have been fined now supervised by the Probation Service and medium serious offenders who a decade ago would have been supervised by the Probation Service now being sent to prison, generally for short sentences. Consequences: prison overcrowding; the silting up of probation caseloads with low-risk offenders subject to community penalties; as well as a significant increase in the number of offenders on licence following imprisonment. Overall the number of offenders being supervised by the Probation Service has doubled.

2.  PROBATION SERVICE WORKLOADS, THEIR PRIORITISATION AND PROBATION OUTPUTS

  Caseloads (calculated on the basis of all Probation staff) up some 30% in the last decade, demand from courts for pre-sentence and parole reports up approximately 20-25%. Cutbacks in Probation staff resources in mid-1990s, now being reversed. Nevertheless, significant pressures, reflecting, inter alia, the current emphasis (supported in several instances by targets) on the enforcement of orders, the delivery of accredited "What Works" offending behaviour programmes, new work with victims and better assessment of offenders to be achieved through the introduction of a new joint (with Prison Service) risk assessment tool, OASyS. There is also high priority on managing high risk offenders (including sex offenders) released on licence. These developments highly desirable and there have been significant advances in Service performance in relation to all these objectives: enforcement has improved (though not consistently across the country), the delivery of accredited offender programmes has got better; the quality and timeliness of pre-sentence reports has improved; etc. Longstanding IT infrastructural deficiencies are also being addressed. Nevertheless there is continued staff concern about workloads reflected, currently, in the NAPO proposed industrial action for later this month. There is a significant South East factor here: the difficulty of recruiting and retaining staff in the region.

3.  OUTCOME MEASUREMENT

  The key Government target for the Probation Service is reduced re-offending by sentenced offenders. The "What Works" agenda is based on the proposition that the best available evidence indicates that tighter enforcement of orders and the targeted delivery of programmes will result in significantly reduced re-offending. Tighter enforcement and taking into account victim concerns will also, it is hypothesised, enhance public confidence in the criminal justice generally, another of the Government's objectives. These outcomes are being monitored closely, though attributing these outcomes to particular interventions will prove problematical. The initial results on reconvictions are encouraging, though the interpretation is not yet conclusive.

4.  CHANGING PROBATION CULTURE AND MAJOR ORGANISATION CHANGES

  Organisational shift in emphasis from "advise, assist and befriend" and "welfare" to law enforcement and offender control, evidence-based reduced re-offending intervention, risk assessment and public protection. Emphasis on partnerships. Increased joint working with the police (information exchange, planning of supervision/surveillance in relation to high risk offenders) and the need for even more effective joint working with the Prison Service for effective sentence planning and the resettlement of prisoners. Some of these changes predictably accompanied by some staff resistance, but also emergent patterns of professional pride in new skills and ways of working.

  In addition, major organisational changes and a welter of new legislation. On 1 April 2001 the then 54 local more-or-less autonomous Probation Services abolished and the NPS, divided into 42 Areas coterminous with the other criminal justice agencies (with the exception of prisons), created under the direction of the National Probation Directorate. Approximately half of all Chief Officers new to the post. The NPD gearing up. At the same time the proportion of probation staff who are qualified probation officers gradually diminished to the point that they now constitute slightly less than half of all staff. A new staff skills mix and an emphasis on teamwork between increasingly differentiated staff. Further changes in the pipeline—principally, the Criminal Justice Bill and the Halliday agenda for sentencing reform. The desire of Probation staff for greater stability, but there being little prospect of it.

  This description naturally generates many questions in answer to which I should be able to provide some answers. With that in mind, it may be useful if I briefly sketch some of the developments in which HMIP is involved.

  In recent months I have personally written and spoken widely about the need to reverse the sentencing trend of recent years and, in particular, resuscitate the courts' use of financial penalties. If the Probation Service is going effectively to devote more of its stretched resources to short-term prisoner post-release supervision then it must be relieved of some of the work currently required of it regarding low-risk offenders. To this end HMIP is emphasising (not least in my Foreword to our Annual Report 2001-02) the need for the Probation Service to develop an effective media strategy and communicate better with sentencers. The demands made on the Service must, must through professional dialogue, be conditioned and the Service needs to develop a higher and more positive public profile.

  HMIP, through its inspection programme, has hitherto concentrated heavily on monitoring process performance (compliance with National Standards, the quality of delivery of accredited programmes, etc). It did so because, until April 2001, there was no national directorate and the Inspectorate to some extent fulfilled a surrogate directorate role. Henceforward, in a new inspection programme to be rolled out in May 2003, we shall be shifting our centre of gravity towards consideration the relevance of interventions and their impact. We shall aim to focus more closely on how the so-called "What Works" offending behaviour programmes are fully integrated with case management and supervision and work alongside practical interventions to address the socially excluding factors (homelessness, unemployment, debt, abuse of drugs, fractured family relationships, etc) characteristic of most supervised offenders.

  In addition we produce thematic reports. Last year we published a joint thematic report (with HMI Prisons) on prisoner resettlement (Through the Prison Gate, October 2001) and we are currently undertaking a series of thematic reviews on aspects of the new structure—on the new arrangements for the governance of the service, on work with victims, on Drug Treatment and Testing Orders and probation training.

  I will of course be happy to elaborate on any aspect of the above account. It would be helpful if you were to indicate in advance where you wish me to concentrate my attention when we meet on February 11.

January 2003


 
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