Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-95)|
TUESDAY 11 FEBRUARY 2003
80. You also mention in your report the extra
work, especially in the media, that needs to be done to get across
to the public the good work that is done by the probation service.
I would like you to expand on how you intend to follow that up.
In my experience, the media is rarely interested in good news
but always interested in bad news.
(Professor Morgan) This is a problem which is not
easily resolved. I do not pretend it is. It is neatly reflected
in the fact that whereas chief inspectors of prisons are extremely
well-known and their reports often attract a great deal of media
attention, I doubt whether the public at large have ever heard
of any of my predecessors or are ever likely to hear of me, nor
is there any evidence that the media is greatly interested in
the reports from the Probation Inspectorate, for the very reasons
that you indicate. That does not mean to say that we cannot do
more to increase the profile of the probation service and its
positive aspects. I think that the probation service needs to
develop media strategy so as to get across to the public at large
and to sentencers, in particularthat is where it is most
neededprecisely what the work of the service involves.
And there are techniques for doing that.
81. Will that mean communicating effectively
with the media?
(Professor Morgan) It certainly means that when anyone
makes a public statementthis is a point I made earliersuggesting
that anything less than a prison sentence was being "let
off" that has to be challenged. It should be effectively
challenged. I would like to see the National Director of the probation
service, Eithne Wallis, being a more significant figure in the
media than hitherto she has been. I would like to see Eithne Wallis
having the sort of public profile which previously Martin Narey
has had for the prison service and I think she needs to be backed
up by a larger press office capacity than she currently has and
I think that needs to be encouraged. We need to encourage chief
officers locally to engage with the local mediawhich is
the means by which, for most members of the public, their impressions
of sentencing are gathered.
82. There was a feeling abroad that the probation
service looked upon criminals as their clients or friends whom
they were protecting rather than the role of protecting the public
and ensuring that the criminal did the community service order
or whatever order they were put on. Is that a perception which
is now completely wrong and inaccurate? Have things changed?
(Professor Morgan) I think that is almost entirely
wrong. The issues about which this Committee spoke a good deal
in the 1990s I think has changed quite fundamentally. One of the
big changes which I think is not widely appreciated is the degree
to which the probation service now works very closely in cooperation
with the police. We have a number of strands to this. First of
all, there is the statutory strand. There is now a provision for
high risk-offenders, of which you are probably aware, which requires
the probation service and the police, through what are called
multi-agency public protection panels, to plan jointly for the
effective supervision of high-risk offenders, particularly sex
offenders. Secondly, there is routine exchange of intelligence
now going on all over the country between the probation service
and the police over persistent offenders who are on the probation
service's books, either as a result of them being on licence following
a prison sentence or because they are subject to a community sentence
and because they are one of a shortlist of offenders that the
police are targeting because they believe that they are "at
it". Intelligence is routinely exchanged now between probation
officers and police officers all over the country. That would
have been unthinkable for the average probation officer 10 years
ago. I visited an area recently where this had gone to such lengths
that the senior probation officer in the area office now attended
the routine weekly CID intelligence meetings to exchange intelligence.
Unthinkable 10 years ago. Then we have bubbling up all over the
country so-called persistent offender projects, of which you may
have heard, where you have dedicated teams of police officers,
quite often drawn from CID, and probation officers, sometimes
working together with nurses from the health service (because
quite often the candidates are persistent offenders addicted to
class-A drugs), who target relatively small caseloads of persistent
offenders either subject to community penalties or subject to
licence following release from imprisonment. It is a sticks-and-carrot
operation: they tell the offenders, "You are being subject
to surveillance, we are watching you. If you want to address your
drug addiction, we will provide additional resources to assist
you, we will fast-track you into services so as to address all
of that, but if you fail to comply, if we have evidence that you
are "at it", you will be whipped back into prison fairly
rapidly." So it is a sticks-and-carrot operation jointly
conducted by probation and police services. Once again, unthinkable
10 years ago. So I think it has changed a great deal.
(Mr Ramell) I just wanted to add perhaps another important
development, which again is in the general direction that Professor
Morgan mentions, which is the increasing emphasis in work with
victims. Victim issues have an increasing emphasis in probation
work, both in terms of work with offenders in ensuring that they
are made fully aware of the effect of their offence on the victimand
our inspections show that although that work is sometimes not
as fully done as it might be, it is certainly moving in the right
direction and increasingly it is being coveredand the other
issue being the direct contact which probation services now have
with victims of serious sexual and violent offences, both in informing
them of the process of the case with which they are involved and
in seeking their views and concerns about the release of the offender
and licence conditions which will be applied. Those victim emphases
and issues, again, are moving in the same direction, moving away
from any excessive focus on the offender or the client and towards
the probation service intervening on behalf of society as a whole,
both for the victim and to reduce re-offending.
83. Going back to the newspaper misrepresentation,
does that phrase so-and-so "walked free from court with only
200 hours community service" irritate you?
(Professor Morgan) I think it is offensive.
I think it is offensive in view of the dedicated work undertaken
by the probation service to provide programmes that are challenging
and demandingin many respects more demanding than simply
banging someone up for three months in an environment where nothing
is going to be done in the current climate to address their offending
84. I have lost count of the number of times
it has appeared in my local newspaper. It seems every trainee
sub-journalist has to have that drummed into him.
(Professor Morgan) Yes. I agree. I mean, I would like
to see a documentary television series undertaken on the work
of the probation service which would effectively communicate.
There would be risks attached to this but nevertheless it would
address precisely this sort of issue.
Chairman: It would have to go out on
prime time to make any impact, I am afraid. It would be a good
85. Chairman, perhaps every journalist should
be required to go on a probation course to see what it actually
means to "walk free".
(Professor Morgan) I think every journalist
should undertake a community punishment order!
86. There was a film madeperhaps before
your timein 1950 with Joan Collins being put on probation,
I Believe In You. I see one of your colleagues nodding.
(Mr Hutchings) I have heard of it but
I have not seen it.
(Professor Morgan) I assure you that John Hutchings
is not that old!
Chairman: Do you have a question?
87. Yesyou were the one who asked about
the media and I just put that in. The fact of the matter is, as
the Chairman has said, his local paper, and that would also apply
to local papers up and down the country, suggest this but is it
not the fact of the matter that so many of our own constituents
do believe and believe very strongly that a non-custodial sentence
means that the person is receiving no form of punishment. My question
to you is: How far can the Government do more to try to persuade
people that a non-custodial sentence is a form of punishment and
an effective form of punishment?
(Professor Morgan) I think I can only
reiterate some of what I have already said. If you are subject
to a community rehabilitation order today and it requires you
to take part in an accredited programme, group programme, you
are going to have to spend many hours uncomfortably discussing
your offence and the impact it was likely to have had on the victim,
in a group situation, with others, where any attempt that you
make to dismiss lightly any of that or to attempt to be unthinking
about it is going to be effectively challenged. That is a very
discomforting experience. I have now spoken to a sufficient number
of offenders who have undergone that experience and heard them
talking about how it has changed their attitudes and how demanding
they found it, to be convinced that if candidates who had undergone
that experience talked publicly to sentencersas in some
parts of the country they do, incidentallythat would greatly
impact sentencers' views about the nature of some community penalties.
If we found ways of doing it in magazine articles or in a documentary
series or in occasional newspaper featuresand that is the
scope for this: we are not going to get much attention paid to
the work of the probation service in news reports but the way
to do it, I think, is in more in-depth articles and features about
the background to itthen I think that would change people's
views that this is simply a let off or that people have walked
free, particularly if that is accompanied by the reality with
which I know you are much preoccupied of what is currently going
on within the prison system. The prison system is doing an increasingly
better job, which is now being threatened by the increasing numbers.
88. The general impressionand I do not
know whether it is shared by my colleagues or notis that
someone on community serviceafter a delay, which has already
been mentioned, before they start this community servicedoes
some sort of work in a old people's home, does a bit of gardening,
perhaps lacks supervision, and all the rest of it. Inconvenient
for the person who has offended but, nevertheless, at the end
of the day, it does not really amount to much.
(Mr Hutchings) First of all, coming back to a community
punishment order, the person would be expected to start work within
10 days of the order being made.
89. In practice, does that happen?
(Professor Morgan) In the majority of cases.
(Mr Hutchings) I would think in the majority of cases
that would happen. I have inspected community punishment order
work in a great number of different probation services. I have
inspected in Sunderland, Chairman, as part of that, and there
is some very demanding work that goes on, physical labour does
take place. There are examples of working in homes for older people
and in looking after them and performing some tasks which are
demanding in a different sort of way and challenging for the offenders
concerned. But I do not see those as easy options or people sitting
round with nothing to do. There is a clear expectation that the
probation service should arrange a minimum of five hours work
per week for them during the time they are on the community punishment
order. People do have to turn up to do it at weekends and in some
cases in the evenings as well. But the reality is that it is not
really a soft option for people to do.
90. Do we have any statistics about the number
who have received non-custodial orders who have re-offended again?
(Professor Morgan) Yes. Those were the figures to
which we referred earlier, where the target is the 5 per cent
reduction and where we were pointing out that the early data coming
through are relatively promising in terms of achievement against
that target, albeit they are only over a two-year follow-up period
and they are from a 1997 base, which means that most of the people
we are tracking there will not have done the accredited programmes
to which we were earlier referring. But it looks relatively promising
in relation to that target.
91. Better than the re-offending rate or less
than the re-offending rate of those who go to prison?
(Professor Morgan) That remains to be seen as to how
it compares between the two. This Committee drew attention to
the factand I know you pressed my predecessor on thisthat
the overall rate for custodial and non-custodial was broadly similar.
Of course, as this Committee fully appreciates, there are other
considerations, not least the direct and indirect costs. But the
early data available for non-custodial penalties we think will
show that there will be some differences in future, but that remains
to be seen. I would like to underline in relation to your community
punishment question the points we have been making earlier, that
a very high proportion of the offenders undertaking community
punishment orders are low risk, who arguably should not be doing
it, who arguably could be fined, who arguably, according to all
the risk assessment data, do not have significant criminogenic
factors that need to be addressed by more demanding provision
and intervention and costly intervention. So the probation service
has plans for this enhanced community punishment which will mean
greater intervention in the average case for someone undertaking
a community punishment order, but it will not make sense for that
to be applied for very low risk offenders who frankly do not need
Chairman: Let us hope the judges and
the magistrates get the message on that.
92. But they will only get the message as the
Chairman has mentioned when public opinion is sufficiently of
the view that a non-custodial sentence for people who are not
so low risk is really effective.
(Professor Morgan) No, no, I am talking
about the other end of the continuum: they will only get the message
when fines are enforceable.
93. May I just bounce off you one or two points
made by Mr Watson, to whom we referred earlier, the probation
officer from North London who wrote to me. He said, "What
is very striking about the current way of working is that ...
it is more and more mechanistic and regarded as a purely administrative
task: the idea seems to be to put more and more of our work onto
computers and soon anyone who can read a questionnaire to an offender
and type out the result can write a pre-sentence report, and the
computer system will come up with the "correct" sentence
to recommend to the court. It feels rather like diagnosing a fault
in, say, a motorcarand I have no doubt that this works
well with a motorcar." 
What do you say to that?
(Professor Morgan) I do not know Mr Watson
but I suspect that Mr Watson is part of a minority of probation
officers who have been resistant to the changes that have taken
place, many of which I have to say I think were necessary. I mean,
I think there was a time when probation was regarded as a sort
of professional art form in which individual probation officers
engaged in isolation, with no one very clear as to precisely what
they did with their individual caseload in the privacy of their
consulting room and where we did not have much evidence about
the impact. If we are going to persuade the Treasury that more
resources should be devoted to the probation service and if we
are going to re-allocate resources within the overall correctional
services budget, then it is incumbent on the probation service
to demonstrate that (a) it is delivering something which we can
recognise and (b) that it is having an impact, and that necessarily
means that we have to record rather more than we did hitherto
and it possibly means setting one or two targets and measuring
outcomes in relation to them. I am familiar with all the traditional
arguments about target-setting and the merits and the demerits,
of course we are all familiar with those, but I think that in
the case of the probation service it was necessary to have certain
targets and it was certainly necessary to have standards.
94. One final shot from Mr Watson: "We
should get the offender round to our way of thinking, get them
to realise that it will be in their best interests to work with
us to reduce their problems and thus their offending, and get
them to actively cooperate with the process and to give their
consent to any order made."
(Mr Hutchings) I do know Mr Watson, and
I have great respect for him actually. My own perception of going
out and observing interviews with offenders under the supervision
of probation officers is that is the actual process which continues
to operate, in contact between probation officers and the people
whom they are supervising, and that any suggestions to become
a totally mechanistic process is not how I would perceive it as
operating. He has talked about reports in terms of filling in
a template or to do them. This is something which I think the
London probation area took on from the initiative which was originally
driven in Cornwall, where the design of a template to produce
reports did actually lead to a dramatic high increase in the quality
of the reports being produced without in any way taking away totally
the idea of people being able to write their own reports within
95. I just wanted to put those points to you,
since Mr Watson took the trouble to write to us.
(Professor Morgan) If I could just add that perhaps
the concerns that Mr Watson has are concerns that we propose closely
addressing in our new inspection programme. We talked a little
bit about this earlier: we propose in future reaching behind the
performance data, so there is a requirement in the standard that
an offender should meet their supervisor each week. That test,
if it is simply measured in terms of appointments arranged, is
very simply complied with: you give the offender a list of 12
dates, saying, "This is when your appointments are."
But of course the important things are (a) whether they take place,
(b) their duration, and (c) the quality of the work that is undertaken
during the contact. It is precisely that at which we intend to
be looking closely in our new inspection programme.
Chairman: I am grateful for that. On
that note, we conclude. Thank you very much for coming, gentlemen.
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