Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)



  60. Still with staff morale, with all those changes, according to your own statistics the number of probation officers between 1997 and 2001 has only gone up by 357, whereas other grades within the probation service have increased by 1,449.
  (Professor Morgan) Yes.

  61. Are you actually putting the extra resource where it is needed, in the front line?
  (Professor Morgan) Most of those additional staff are front-line staff, it is just that they are called probation service officers, but they are essential for the supervision of low-risk offenders and also for delivering the accredited programmes which are now a key component in what the probation service delivers.
  (Mr Hutchings) They would include people working in supervising community punishment orders and staff working in probation hostels as well.

  62. Would you wish to see a bigger increase than 357 over the last five years for the workload that is currently there and the projected increased workload? Or do you think the number of probation officers in England and Wales of 7,500 is sufficient for the workload?
  (Professor Morgan) I do not think we can answer that question in a definitive way. I think the Inspectorate agrees that the sort of staff mix that is being achieved is necessary and desirable—and it is, incidentally, reflected within the Inspectorate. When I joined the Inspectorate, I think I was the first person to join who had not had a straightforward probation service career. Now we have a number of colleagues, and it is necessary for the service to have that staff mix. If you look at the services to which the probation service has to ensure access—in relation to drugs, in relation to basic skills, in relation to housing—that all involves working collaboratively with other state services and local authorities to ensure that access by offenders to pooled resources is achieved, and that means that the range of skills and contacts and expertise that you need within a probation service has changed quite significantly in recent years and it is being achieved and arguably should be pushed yet further.

  63. Moving on, you have already mentioned our predecessor Committee's report of 1998. Four years ago the Government admitted that too little is known about the effectiveness of the probation work. Is that still the case?
  (Professor Morgan) I think the position that you recorded in your 1998 report has changed quite dramatically. On that occasion you complained in your conclusions that insufficient attention was being paid to the evaluation of programmes. There is now a very substantial programme of evaluation and research being undertaken by the Home Office, the largest that it has ever undertaken, and a great deal of it is being focused upon the programmes under the "What Works" banner that are being rolled out by the prison and probation services.

  64. Has the Inspectorate commissioned any research?
  (Professor Morgan) No, we do not commission research and we do not have funds to undertake that, but we take a close interest in it and we have a continuing dialogue with the Home Office Research and Statistics Division and with the National Directorate over what the research programme comprises, and where we think work needs to be done which is not being done then we make representations to that end.

  65. Are you content with that research?
  (Professor Morgan) I think the broad panoply of research being undertaken is broadly adequate. You could always argue for further pieces of work than have been undertaken but I think a great deal of research is now being undertaken and that represents a signal change from that which you recorded in 1998.

  66. Again, four years on, what is the latest position with the comparative cost-effectiveness of custodial as opposed to non-custodial sentences?
  (Professor Morgan) Perhaps I can retreat here to one or two generalities, because I think it is necessary. The research on the pilot, so-called, "What Works" programmes showed that, if the programmes were delivered in the best conceivable way by highly trained and skilled personnel and they were targeted on offenders with certain characteristics, they held out great promise in reducing re-conviction rates comparing like-for-like cases. Those statistics have received a great deal of attention. But it is one thing to deliver programmes experimentally or on a pilot basis in ideal circumstances, and it is quite a different thing to roll it out generally. Once you roll out programmes generally, they are not always targeted on the ideal offenders, they are not always delivered by persons with the best skills and they are not always delivered in ideal circumstances. We have already referred to a letter which talked about the gap between a court deciding that someone should undertake a programme and them actually starting it, and that has been a substantial problem within the system, particularly in the early days of the "What Works" programmes. Therefore, rolling out a programme and achieving the same results that you achieved when you did it on a pilot basis, experimentally, are chalk and cheese. I think it would be very surprising if the programmes rolled out nationally were to achieve the sort of very good results which appear to be coming though from the pilot and the experimental ones.

  67. So we do not know, but what we do know is that there are more people in prison now than there were four years ago.
  (Professor Morgan) That is a slightly different issue. I thought we were addressing currently the effectiveness of particular programmes.

  68. But the upshot is the re-offending issue, which I understood we were looking at, between non-custodial and custodial sentences. I thought the object of the exercise was to deter people from committing further offences?
  (Professor Morgan) Yes. I am sorry, I think we may be talking past each other. I thought your question was largely addressing the Home Office objective of reducing re-offending rates by five per cent.

  69. Precisely.
  (Professor Morgan) Yes, but we are also talking about a changing sentencing pattern, as opposed to people getting sentenced because they failed earlier on programmes delivered in a community penalty context.

  70. Let us take things to the future. You have made reference to the relevance and impact of interventions. Could you give us some more details on how that would work?
  (Professor Morgan) We do not yet know, because we do not have follow-up data yet on persons who have undertaken the programmes, both in a prison and a probation context for sufficiently long enough to know how well they are working, but I am suggesting to you that it would be highly surprising if the very good results that resulted from the pilot programmes were sustained from a generally rolled-out programme nationally, and the latest data that I have seen are much less encouraging, though they have not yet been published. But I am suggesting that we should not expect the sort of results which you will have been aware of from the pilot programmes. The national figures currently look rather promising on the basis of a two-year follow-up from, I think, the 1997 baseline towards the 5 per cent reduction. I mean, the latest figures are .... What is it?
  (Mr Ramell) A reduction of 3.1 per cent on the predicted rate for community orders and that is based on orders commencing in the first quarter of 1999. That is the latest available data, so that is showing good progress towards the 5 per cent target for 2004.

  71. Five per cent, presumably, is the minimum. You would like it to be higher still.
  (Mr Ramell) Yes.
  (Professor Morgan) I think we would all like a much higher figure but whether it is realistic to look for it—

  72. The point is that is not a target to reach, that is a target to go beyond.
  (Professor Morgan) Yes. Absolutely.

  73. Chairman, my final, all-embracing question. The monitoring process is now increasingly a function of the National Directorate. Are you satisfied that they are equipped to carry out this function effectively? Would you not think that perhaps the Inspectorate is better placed to carry out such monitoring because it is independent of the Government?
  (Professor Morgan) This needs to be broken down a little. I explained in my introduction this morning that we used to collect a large number of data about compliance with national standards. When the NPD was formed in April 2001, we gradually handed over that function to them, and there are other functions which we are in the course of handing over in relation to the delivery of accredited programmes. I think that is a right and proper shift, because I think performance management is the task of management and should now be the function of the NPD, and that they should have in place arrangements so that they can monitor the delivery of services on a week-to-week/month-to-month basis. Nevertheless, the data returned by areas on a monthly basis to the National Directorate, showing what performance in relation to those standards is, are very important to us: we need to know that they are reliable, because it is the starting point for everything that we look at. Periodically quality assurance exercises are being undertaken to ensure that the data being returned by the areas to the centre are reliable and that we can rely on them, and we are involved in that exercise. We are not relinquishing concern for that, but we do think it is largely their function, but we ourselves need to take steps to work with them to ensure the data are valid and reliable and we are doing that. We are proposing in our inspection programme, however, to take those performance data as the starting point. Our question is: Why is one area performing well and one area not? Why is it that one area is able to hit a target and another area is not? Why is one area taking industrial action and is there apparently a problem of workloads in one area as opposed to another? Those are the starting point questions for an inspectorate and, in order to make that the starting point, we have to be confident that the data being returned to the centre are reliable. So it is a balance.


  74. Going back to those five Bills to which you referred a moment ago, would you remind us what they are?

  (Professor Morgan) Now you are putting me on the spot! The Criminal Justice Bill; the Court Sentences Bill; the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill, the Sex Offenders Bill—not yet introduced, I think—and the Mental Health Bill. So there are potentially five Bills, some of which will have only marginal implications for the probation service—they all have some implications, some of them major.

  75. My question was going to be: is there anything in those five Bills—and I think at least two have not been introduced yet—that imposes an unnecessary burden on you ?
  (Professor Morgan) No, I do not think I want to argue that. The question about resources for the probation service is very contingent upon what form eventually those Bills, particularly the Criminal Justice Bill, take, when the commencement dates are attached to particularly important provisions, and whether it is backed up adequately with a budget.

  Chairman: That is a very fair point.

  Mr Singh

  76. Mr Morgan, you say in your foreword in your report that there is no evidence that the public and sentencers particularly want a tough probation service. I am not sure I actually agree with that. Do you think, with the changes that have occurred in recent years, the public no longer regard the probation service or probation as a soft option?

  (Professor Morgan) If I can refer to my earlier statement, I did undertake a survey of public knowledge and confidence in the criminal justice system for the Halliday Report and I undertook a national survey of magistrates and the public at large and practitioners in the criminal justice system for the Auld Report. Those were two research functions I undertook before. I think I come to the following conclusions. First of all, the public at large know remarkably little about the probation service and know remarkably little about its working. I do not personally think that it is ever likely that the man and woman on the Clapham omnibus will ever know a great deal about the probation service—why should they? People are not walking about the streets saying, "Shall I or shall I not use the probation service?" It is part of the infrastructure of the state on which they hope they can rely but about which, frankly, they do not know a great deal. So I think efforts need to be taken to try to increase public awareness and knowledge about what the probation service does, but I do not think we can reasonably expect the average person to know a lot about the probation service nor do I think they are particularly interested in it. When I said I do not think there is any evidence that the public want a tough probation service, I meant—and it is rather similar to the issue we were discussing earlier about the so-called demand by the public for custodial sentences—that all the more sophisticated public opinion evidence shows that the public want whatever we do to be effective. They do and do not have misconceptions about some of what we do. They want evidence, if someone is subject to a community penalty, that it is going to be challenging and demanding and likely to address the factors that underpinned the offending behaviour of the offender and is likely to reduce the likelihood of them being-re-victimised. That is what they want. If you could provide evidence that being very harsh might achieve that, they might well wish for harshness, but that is not, of course, what the evidence shows. The evidence shows that if we address the criminogenic factors which underpin offending and we do it in a sophisticated way, then there is a greater likelihood that the person will not continue on their career of offending. I think that is what the public wants.

  77. That is fine, as far as it goes. Do you think the public now believe that the probation service is more effective?
  (Professor Morgan) I doubt whether there has been any great change, frankly. I think I was pointing, in the introduction to our annual report, to the fact that in recent years Parliament has determined that the titles of community penalties should change. The probation order has become the community rehabilitation order.

  78. You call this jargon.
  (Professor Morgan) I doubt, frankly, that by simply changing the names of orders you greatly increase public confidence or knowledge; I think you are more likely to sow confusion—which is not to say that I was against the changes. I think I was not particularly in favour of the change to community service because I observed, after I took this job, that when I went out and met magistrates they continued to refer to it as community service. When I visited different parts of the country, I noted that within the probation service the people who organised community punishment orders were still organised in many parts of the country in community service units and the activity in which offenders engaged was called community service. I pointed out in the annual report that, if you look at what community service ideally should comprise according to the NPD, I cannot think of a term that better connotes what they think it should comprise than community service.

  79. You said earlier that the public does not know much about the probation service and why should it. Surely the community, the public, will understand a community punishment order more than a probation order?
  (Professor Morgan) No, the reason I focused on that is that all the research evidence showed that the only bit of the community penalty panoply which was widely understood was community service. This, somehow, was a term that a high proportion of people had understood and thus to lose it was possibly no great advantage. I have to add that if, of course, Parliament approves the provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill, most of this debate will become redundant because we will then have a single portmanteau "community penalty" within which the court will fix particular provisions. The whole panoply of community punishment orders, community punishment and rehabilitation orders, etc, will become part of history.

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