The future of the Probation Service Contents

3The Unified Model, Sentence Management and Advice to the Courts

The Unified Model and Sentence Management

37.Sentence management is a core function of the probation service, requiring “effective delivery of the sentence of the court, ensuring individuals subject to community orders, suspended sentence orders, licence and post-sentence supervision are properly supervised, requirements are delivered, risks managed and enforcement action taken after non-compliance.”61

38.One of the most significant changes in the new model is a unified model of sentence management, “which brings the responsibility for the management of all individuals subject to probation services into the National Probation Service (NPS) by integrating the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) and NPS Sentence Management.”62 This proposal reverses previous changes made to sentence management. HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) note that “Unifying Sentence Management within one organisation will reduce the complexity of the current system and ensure it is delivered in a more coherent and efficient manner. Our model will build on the improvements underway in CRCs and the NPS and aims to achieve:

39.The new arrangements for sentence management are expected to come into effect from June 2021. In Wales, unified sentence management was brought into the NPS in December 2019 and CRCs continue to provide all other contracted services until their contracts end.64

Confidence in Sentencing

40.Confidence among those who deliver and those who administer sentences was dented during the Transforming Rehabilitation reform period. Dame Glenys Stacey, then Chief Inspector of Probation, noted in her 2019 annual Report, that: “On inspection, we now find probation supervision provided under contract to be substandard, and much of it demonstrably poor. Judicial confidence in community sentencing is now at serious risk.”65 Our predecessor Committee also found that TR had weakened judicial confidence, particularly in community sentences; in the ‘The role of the magistracy: follow-up’ Report, that Justice Committee found that: “under the Transforming Rehabilitation regime there had been a drop-off in confidence in community sentences, not helped by the ‘one-step removal of the Community Rehabilitation Companies [CRCs] from magistrates’; magistrates had also been concerned about delayed responses to breaches of community orders.”66

41.The Ministry of Justice, in its ‘Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence - Response to consultation’, noted the importance of building confidence in the new model: “Improving the confidence of sentencers in probation delivery will be an important element in making greater use of the full range of alternatives to custody available to the court and supporting our longer-term aspirations for sentencing reform. It is our assessment that our revised model will allow us to more quickly rebuild this confidence.”67

42.Many hope that the unified model will improve judicial and public confidence in sentencing. Mat Ilic, Chief Development Officer, Catch 22 told us that was one of the primary justifications for bringing offender management under one roof with the National Probation Service.68 NACRO, which deals with the care and resettlement of offenders, thought reunification of the probation service should mean more consistent offers and more direct communication between the judiciary and those who deliver sentences.69 Laura Seebohm, Executive Director, External Engagement, Changing Lives, emphasised the importance of the voluntary sector: “one of the real shames of Transforming Rehabilitation was that the relationship between CRCs, the voluntary and community sector, and sentencers seemed to be severed.”70 And the Magistrates Association was also positive about the potential effects of a unified probation service and model of sentence management.71

43.Others, though, have questioned how far the new model will increase confidence in sentencing.72 For example, Seetec, one of the CRC organisations, told us: “The new model increases centralised control and funding, which will not necessarily result in increased sentencer confidence on its own and could in fact hinder local responsiveness.”73 Landworks was also cautious:

There needs to be a broader cultural change, and development of a system that can truly provide tailored, joined up interventions that reflect the realities of the lives of people in the system. While the reforms are welcome, ultimately the new model will only really address the issue of confidence in community sentences, if the delivery of community sentences are seen to be improved and more effectively address the range of issues involved when seeking to aid rehabilitation and reduce reoffending.74

44.The new unified model has the potential to increase judicial confidence, through improved communication, sharing of relevant information and a more consistent offer of support. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice sets out how it will assess whether the new probation delivery model improves sentencer confidence, what criteria will be used to make that judgment, and what research will be undertaken, and data gathered.

45.Confidence in non-custodial sentencing among judges and magistrates - and, by implication, the public - will rise only if the suitability and effectiveness of such sanctions are improved. More needs to be done to address the range of issues that cause offending and, in particular in this context, reoffending after both custodial and non-custodial sentences. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently progressing through Parliament offers a substantial opportunity to increase public confidence that those who offend are serving suitable sentences, in prison and afterwards or as community alternatives. We look forward to considering firm legislative proposals on sentencing, release, parole, probation, youth justice and the management of offenders as the Bill proceeds.

46.We recommend that the MOJ sets out what other action is being taken to improve judicial and public confidence in sentencing, particularly for the delivery of community sentencing. We recommend that the MOJ sets out what criteria it uses to measure the effectiveness of community sentencing, including the effect on reoffending.

Advice to the Courts

47.The National Probation Service is responsible for providing advice to the courts, including the delivery of pre-sentence reports (PSRs), providing advice and information to help judges and magistrates in their sentencing decisions.75 The NPS will retain responsibility for these functions under the new unified model.76 Currently, around 53% of court disposals receive a pre-sentence report, although the MoJ have stated their ambition to increase this to 75% in the new model.77

48.HMPPS have committed to improving the quality of advice given to courts in pre-sentence reports “to ensure proposals target specific interventions and treatment requirements that will facilitate reduced reoffending”.78 In their Draft Target Operating Model, HMPPS state:

We want to target fuller reports on more complex cases including individuals who have offended repeatedly, individuals subject to probation services, women, black and Asian people and people of other minority ethnic groups. We will also focus on the needs of young people as a priority cohort.79

49.HMPPS add that: “By its nature advice to court has to take account of wider impacts, including HMCTS Court reform, legislative planning and the commissioning of pilots to improve sentencing outcomes. In delivering improvements to advice to court, we are focusing on three high-level areas and are planning specific activity to bring these to effect, some of which will support wider improvements:

50.There is consensus that better pre-sentence reports are fundamental to improving sentencer confidence.81 The Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody, for example, told us: “It is essential to improve the confidence of the courts in community sentences in order to avoid the misuse of prison as a ‘place of safety’ for vulnerable people. And the role of probation services and good pre-sentence reports is pivotal here.”82 The Magistrates Association stressed the need “to ensure that information presented to the court as part of a presentence report includes all relevant details about available services, as well as the individual.”83

51.Concerns have been raised about such reports being inaccurate or out of date. The Revolving Doors charity, which works with vulnerable people to provide policy advice to Government on their needs, held 30 interviews and four forums to gather evidence from probation service users. Regarding pre-sentence reports, they found that: “Many respondents raised that information provided to the courts was out of date, and in some extreme cases, related to a previous offence. Our respondents shared examples of where pre-sentence reports felt rushed or did not reflect the circumstances of the offence. People felt that probation staff were letting them down by not taking more time to do more rigorous pre-sentence reports.”84

52.HM Inspectorate of Probation, in its March 2021 report ‘Race equality in probation: experience of black, Asian and minority ethnic probation service users and staff’ identified that “the quality of PSRs was insufficient in too many cases, and not enough attention was paid to the service user’s diversity.”85 Alex Chalk MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice, told us that “work is about to start to improve the quality of pre-sentence reports for this group and remove potential bias”.86

53.We heard from people with lived experience of the probation service about their experience of pre-sentence reports. Eden-Rose, Nadia and Phil87 told us that they were not involved in their own pre-sentence report processes. Eden had spoken with a solicitor, not probation officers.88 Phil told us:

The thing I remember is that the reports are not compiled with us in the room. I even had one sentence hearing where they used an old report. It was five months old, from memory. I was getting sentenced in the middle of February and they used an October report. They are not compiled while we are there. They ask you a few questions and compile a bit of information, and then they write it how they see it and not how you have tried to portray it. It is not all the time; sometimes people get it right. In my last probation report they got it spot-on, for some reason. Well, it was probably because they actually asked me.89

54.The Ministry of Justice emphasised its commitment to improving pre-sentence reports under the new model:

We are also committed to improving both the quantity and quality of pre-sentence reports (PSRs) to ensure more sentencing decisions accurately identify an offender’s risks and needs, as well as highlighting suitable community interventions and treatment requirements that facilitate reduced reoffending. To achieve this, we will increase NPS capacity to prepare PSRs on more recorded disposals, and deliver an enhanced volume of fast delivery reports, including an increase in fuller reports for BAME and women offenders.90

55.Pre-sentence reports are an essential part of probation delivery and ensure that sentencers have the information necessary to make sentencing decisions that will ensure justice and support rehabilitation. We welcome the MOJ’s commitment to improving pre-sentence reports and increasing their use under the new model and are pleased to hear that NPS capacity to prepare pre-sentence reports will be increased.

56.We recommend that the Ministry of Justice set out how they intend to increase NPS capacity to prepare pre-sentence reports. The MOJ should also set out what work is being done besides this to improve the quality of pre-sentence reports, ensuring that those completing them understand and convey to sentencers what the needs of the offender are, and what is available in the local community where a community sentence may be appropriate.

65 HM Inspectorate of Probation, Report of the Chief Inspector of Probation (March 2019), p 3

66 Justice Committee, Eighteenth Report of Session 2017–19, The Role of the Magistracy: follow-up, HC 1654 para 111

67 Ministry of Justice, Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence (May 2019), p 17

68 Q77 [Mat Ilic]

69 NACRO (PRO0013)

70 Q77 {Laura Seebohm]

71 Magistrates Association (PRO0019)

72 See also: Sodexo (PRO0005)

73 Seetec (PRO0010)

74 LandWorks (PRO0011)

75 HM Inspectorate of Probation, The quality of pre-sentence information and advice provided to courts (April 2020), p 6

81 See also: Julia Mulligan (Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire at Office of the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire) (PRO0007)

82 Juliet Lyon CBE (Chair at Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths and Custody) (PRO0029)

83 Magistrates Association (PRO0019)

84 Revolving Doors Agency (PRO0030)

86 Letter from Alex Chalk MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice to Sir Bob Neill, Chair, Justice Committee, ‘Publication of HMI Probation Thematic Report’, 15 March 2021

87 Q146–150 {Phil, Eden-Rose, Nadia]

88 Q147 [Eden-Rose]

89 Q149[Phil]

90 Ministry of Justice (PRO0033)

Published: 23 April 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement