The role of the Probation Service - Justice Committee Contents

Written evidence from Make Justice Work (PB 14)


In order to deliver effective and sustainable intensive community sentencing, the Probation Service must be resourced and supported appropriately. The prison population is at an all time high and with the stringent financial savings which are to made to cut the country's deficit, it is critical that Probation and the services it delivers remain intact and strengthened if the government are to be able to reduce the prison population safely and appropriately.

This submission wishes to outline that:

1.  Without the expertise and experience of the Probation Service, neither the Police, Courts, Voluntary Sector nor Private Sector, will be able to deliver the type of community punishment which can effectively impact on crime reduction and the number of victims.

2.  MJW intends to evaluate objectively the effectiveness of the work of not just intensive community sentencing, but also the role of courts, restorative justice and the voluntary sector in reducing re-offending.

3.  It is essential to support the continued funding and commitment to intensive community sentences and the necessary promotion of these programmes to give confidence to the public, ministers, key stakeholders and the media that they can impact on reduce re-offending and public safety.


Only with a strong, confident and well resourced Probation Service can there be a proper structure to deal with the likely increase in offenders on community sentences should the government made good its promise to reduce the use of prison for low level offenders. The real danger is that appropriate community alternatives are not put in place speedily and efficiently in time to deal with any changes in sentencing.

Any reduction in the use of prison will put enormous pressure on the Probation Service at a time when resources are being cut back. Yet the role of the Probation Service, with its vast experience and understanding of community sentences, is critical in establishing the most appropriate ways of dealing with both low level and high risk offenders. Now is the time to consolidate and build on good practice not to throw the baby out with the bath water.


Make Justice Work is a new campaigning organisation designed to make the argument in the media and to politicians, civil servants and key stakeholders that the criminal justice system is in urgent need of reform: it is ineffective at reducing re-offending and inefficient at spending public money. Crucially, we plan to focus on the costliness of locking up low level offenders and the futility of short term sentences while at the same time promoting more effective ways of reducing re-offending and improving public safety. Ultimately, we hope to bring about a fundamental sea change in public attitudes to how Britain deals with the punishment and rehabilitation of offenders - one which results in less use of custody, greater investment in effective community rehabilitation and fewer victims.

MJW has over 130 ambassadors supporting its work, including Martha Lane Fox (entrepreneur), Ruth Bond (Chair of the Women's Institute), and Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC (leading barrister and campaigner), Lord David Ramsbotham, Amir Khan (Boxer) and Simon Woodroffe (founder of YO Sushi and ex Dragons Den).


MJW commissioned Matrix Knowledge to undertake a substantial piece of research last year "Are short term prison sentences an efficient and effective use of public resources?" This research proves that short term prison sentences are ineffective at reducing crime, are financially wasteful and that further commitment and investment must be put into alternatives to custody if we are to see a real reduction in crime and the number of victims. The research reveals that the majority of community sentences provide similar or better value for money and effectiveness than short-term prison sentences. Furthermore, when looking at prisoners with drug problems the comparative savings and effectiveness provided by community based sentences rise massively. Diverting one offender from custody to residential drug treatment would save society approximately £200,000 over the lifetime of the offender. The annual saving per offender who is given intensive supervision with drug treatment is £60,000.Tellingly, these figures not only include capital cost savings for the state but savings to society in terms of both reduced financial costs and reduced pain and suffering. The estimated cost savings per annum if drug using offenders given short sentences over the course of just one year (2007) were given residential drug treatment instead, would have been £60-£100 million per annum for the first six years post-sentencing.

At the same time we commissioned ComRes to poll a group of business leaders to assess their attitudes and opinions towards short-term prison sentences. The findings were compelling. When looking at paying back society 77% agreed that community sentences are a more effective way of low-level offenders paying back victims and society, while only 17% disagreed with this statement.

Of those polled 68% say that community sentences are more cost-effective and provide offenders with routes away from crime and re-offending.

In contrast when posed with the statement "prison sentences for low-level offenders are effective and offer value for money" only 18% agree while 43% disagree and 28% strongly disagree.

Finally, the business leaders were also asked about the issue of employment. 72% agreed that low-level offenders are more employable if they have been subject to a community rather than prison sentence. Tellingly this overall figure rises when looking specifically at business leaders from industries likely to employ ex-offenders. For example 77% of business leaders from the manufacturing sector agree with the above statement.

In July 2010, Make Justice Work launched its National Commission of Enquiry: Community or custody: which works best? This is the premise of a unique and timely high level national enquiry. It will seek to develop conclusive recommendations for solving the problem of low level offending.

The terms of reference for the enquiry are to investigate the efficacy and cost of short term prison sentences versus robust community based alternatives for low-level offenders.

The enquiry is chaired by leading broadcaster and columnist Peter Oborne and led by six renowned experts who have each had distinguished careers across a broad spectrum of issues intersecting with the criminal justice system:

—  Lord Blair, Former Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police

—  Roma Hooper, Director and Founder of Make Justice Work

—  Dame Anne Owers, Former Chief Inspector of Prisons

—  Paul McDowell, Chief Executive of Nacro

—  Owen Sharp, Interim Chief Executive of Victim Support

—  John Thornhill, Chair of the Magistrates Association

The enquiry was launched in July in Manchester, focusing on MOJ/Probation's successful Intensive Alternative to Custody programme, and will report back in Spring 2011. The enquiry will tour the UK taking evidence from local experts and practitioners about ground-level experience of low-level offending and the relative efficacy and cost of short-term prison sentences or community-based alternatives for tackling the problem. The next project we will investigate will be the Bradford Together Women Project, looking specifically at the challenges and benefits of punishing women in the community.

Its purpose is to provide an objective overview of how community sentences work, what the challenges are and what works in practice. It is intended that the feedback from each event will provide a piece of living evidence which will strengthen the government's resolve to divert funding away from prisons for short sentenced prisoners to effective community alternatives.

In the meantime, we continue to visit and identify multi-disciplinary community sentencing programmes which identify how positive relationships between courts, police, probation, the voluntary and private sectors impact on reducing re-offending.


Intensive Alternative to Custody Pilot (IAC)—Greater Manchester Probation Trust. IAC targets 18-25 year old males living in Salford and Manchester who have crossed the custody threshold and without an IAC order would receive a custodial sentence of less than 12 months. IAC orders include a number of unique features that make them more punitive than a standard community order and they are designed to meet the challenges of each particular offender. This includes electronic tagging and rapid response to reoffending behaviour, intensive supervision, training and education 365 days a year, holistic family support and reintegration work that involves offenders families and closest significant adults in the rehabilitation process, and individual mentoring for each offender.

The Enquiry's findings substantiate the impressive work being undertaken by Probation and its partners in Manchester. It is clear that the private (G4S), business (Work Solutions) and the voluntary sector (POPS—Partners of Prisoners) are a critical part of the programme and are contributing greatly to the success of the programme. Equally, the Police play a crucial part in the programme, as do the courts. Key criteria to the success of such programmes are already emerging, and not surprisingly, relationships between key workers, a relevant and substantial work day, support into employment and training and work with offenders and their families are core.

There is every reason to believe that this type of programme (of which there are a number in the UK) can be replicated and embedded elsewhere and that Probation, as the lead provider, is in an excellent position to facilitate such programmes.


TWP is now an independent charity with centres across Yorkshire. Currently, there are TWP centres in Leeds, Bradford, Doncaster and an outreach centre in Keighley and another based at New Hall Prison. TWP is currently in the process of setting up one-stop shop centres in both Hull and Sheffield with local partner agencies.

The Together Women Project Yorkshire and Humberside (TWP) delivers intensive support to female offenders and women at risk of offending aged 18 or over. TWP aims to:

(1)  Support women to tackle triggers of offending behaviour so they can break the cycle of offending that many women become trapped in.

(2)  Divert women from custody (where appropriate).

(3)  Prevent family breakdown and reduce social exclusion.

(4)  Ultimately help vulnerable women to turn their lives around.

Why the Together Women Project?

Considerable investment and commitment has gone into developing key recommendations from the Corston Report.

Some of the key recommendations are:

—  Custodial sentences for women must be reserved for serious and violent offenders who pose a threat to the public.

—  Women unlikely to receive a custodial sentence should not be remanded in custody.

—  Women must never be sent to prison for their own good, to teach them a lesson, for their own safety or to access services such as detoxification.

—  More supported bail placements for women suitable to their needs must be provided.

—  Defendants who are primary carers of young children should be remanded in custody only after consideration of a probation report on the probable impact on the children.

—  Community solutions for non-violent women offenders should be the norm.

—  Community sentences must be designed to take account of women's particular vulnerabilities and domestic and childcare commitments.

—  Sentencers must be informed about the existence and nature of those schemes that do exist and should support and visit them.

—  The restrictions placed on sentencers around breaches of community orders must be made more flexible as a matter of urgency.

—  Section 178 Criminal Justice Act 2003 should be implemented more generally.

—  Bail information schemes in women's prisons must be properly resourced monitored and used.

Whilst women represent only a small minority within the offending world, they are overly represented in the criminal justice system. Most women serve very short sentences. In 2008 64% were sentenced to custody for six months or less (Ministry of Justice (2009) Offender Management Caseload Statistics 2009, London: Ministry of Justice).

Women are the obvious first group to divert away from custody. They are the group which are the likely carers of the next generation of offenders and therefore, investment in women in the system is absolutely essential if there is to be any chance of breaking the cycle of offending in the next generation. (65% of boys who have a parent in prison go on to offend—Prison Advice and Care Trust Annual Review 2008-09).


—  Intensive Alternatives to Custody to be expanded.

—  Wider publicity through local and national media around the work of Probation (eg Local Crime, Community Sentence (LCCS), Moving On series of short films, "Nominate a project for Community Payback" schemes.

—  Magistrates Court and judges to receive training to support their understanding of community sentencing. Many would like to see much more available in the community and they should have a voice which reflects this wish both in the media and government.

—  Greater opportunities for courts to monitor and support offender progress.

—  Continued investment in diversion from custody schemes for women and women's centres. It is critical that current investment is not cut as this would result in the loss of extremely effective provision and expertise, meaning costs to the state and society would rise through unintended consequences.

—  Further investment in drug and alcohol requirements attached to orders.

—  More appropriate and supported caseloads for probation officers via the voluntary and private sector if necessary.

—  Opportunities for the Probation Service to engage in more innovative solutions: See Turning the Corner: Beyond incarceration and re-offending.

—  The appointment of a National Probation Champion.

September 2010

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 27 July 2011