The future of the Probation Service Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Transforming Rehabilitation and the Probation Reform Programme

1.A previous Justice Committee said in 2018 that the Transforming Rehabilitation looked unlikely ever to work. Time has proved our predecessors right. We welcome the Government’s decision to reunify the Probation Service and to introduce a new probation reform programme, even if we must acknowledge how unsatisfactory it is that those working in the system must face more organisational change after six years of it and a 12-month period of coping with a pandemic. We thank the CRC providers for their work over the past six years, and recognise the positive work that has been done and the innovation CRCs have brought to the probation service during this time. (Paragraph 26)

2.This is the second major probation reform programme in the last five years. The unplanned-for effect of covid-19 has only added to the challenges the Probation Service faces. The lessons of the previous, failed reforms must be learned, and the new model must provide a lasting solution that allows some stability to a vital and hard-pressed service. (Paragraph 31)

3.As the then Minister of State, Lucy Frazer, acknowledged to us, one reason for the failure of the 2014–15 Transforming Rehabilitation reforms was inaccurate modelling of how much work, and therefore profit, would go to the private sector and third sector organisations allocated more than half the probation system’s overall caseload to administer. The PAC, the NAO and other bodies, including a former Justice Committee, have highlighted how the 2014–15 reforms foundered on being introduced too fast and without sufficient planning or research into their impacts. (Paragraph 32)

4.We welcome the decision to unify the Probation Service once more. We warn, however, that, after the disruption of the past seven years, changes proposed and begun to the probation system must be fully thought through, properly funded and expected to remain in place for a period of decades rather than months or a few years. We seek an assurance from the Ministry of Justice that the new reforms will do so. (Paragraph 33)

5.There is cause for concern in the way that some goalposts have shifted as the new model has been developed. In particular, the decision to seek Probation Delivery Partners while the new model of delivery was still being developed had unfortunate consequences. Its subsequent cancellation caused significant disappointment to those private and third sector organisations whom the Ministry of Justice encouraged to put time and effort into making successful bids only to see the idea scrapped shortly afterwards. (Paragraph 34)

6.The Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland QC MP, highlighted the role of covid-19 in requiring his decision to cancel the Probation Delivery Partner programme, but we must be concerned at any possible echo of a repeat of over-rapid, under-researched reform being introduced, at great cost and inconvenience, and then swiftly reversed when difficulties arise. We recommend that the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice make it clear whether his cancellation of the Probation Delivery Partner programme was a pragmatic decision as a result of the additional pressures raised by the covid-19 outbreak or a decision on principle to bring unpaid work and behavioural change programmes back within a unified national probation service for the long term. In particular, we invite him to confirm whether the Ministry plans to reconsider or revive a Probation Delivery Partner programme once the covid-19 pandemic has been contained. (Paragraph 35)

7.We recommend that the Ministry review its decision to seek partners while the new model was still being developed and to report to us on whether future procurement processes will prevent the cancellation of proposed new contacts at such a late stage in a process and after potential bidders have put considerable time and effort into nugatory bids. (Paragraph 36)

The Unified Model, Sentence Management and Advice to the Courts

8.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. (Paragraph 44)

9.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. (Paragraph 45)

10.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. (Paragraph 46)

11.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. (Paragraph 55)

12.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. (Paragraph 56)

The Dynamic Framework

13.We are pleased to hear that Ministry of Justice have taken steps to make the Dynamic Framework more accessible to smaller third sector organisations, and particularly welcome the consultancy support that the Ministry of Justice have funded or made available free of charge to some smaller organisations. There is concern, however, among smaller and third sector organisations that the ambition to include their expertise in the system may be defeated by complex processes that may favour larger bidders. We support the work the Ministry of Justice is doing to address those concerns. We welcome the analysis the Department is undertaking on who is bidding under the Dynamic Framework and the issues arising from the bidding process, and we recommend that the Ministry of justice publish this analysis, alongside a plan of what measures will be taken to address any issues identified. (Paragraph 74)

14.We welcome the work the Ministry is doing to feed into the Cabinet Office review of procurement and recommend that the MOJ update the Committee on the outcome of this review. (Paragraph 75)

15.Although we recognise that contract values and volumes are indicative, we share in the concerns expressed by some of our witnesses, that in some instances projected volumes are lower than those that various organisations are currently working with. Given that contract value is based on projected volume, discrepancies in these figures, may prevent organisations from participating in the Dynamic Framework. For those that do participate, underfunded contracts may cause financial and operational issues later down the line which could affect the quality of service provision. The potential for contracts to be underfunded is of significant concern to the Committee and we recommend that The Ministry of Justice set out how they are modelling projected volumes and contract values, and also what is being done to ensure that contracts are sufficiently resourced and deliverable according to the funding that is available. (Paragraph 81)

16.No system can function fully from Day 1, but it is vital that probation service provision be as effective as possible. We acknowledge the fears of organisations such as NACRO about implementation of the Dynamic Framework, but equally note the confidence of the then Minister of Justice that services will be appropriately provided from the first day. We note the disappointment of those who may be affected by a shift from local to regional provision but appreciate why that was necessary at a time of pandemic. It is to be hoped that the ambition of including more third sector and smaller organisations with valuable specialist skills will be fully achieved in the longer term. Even given the difficulties that have arisen in its delivery, the Dynamic Framework appears overall to offer a more localised approach to service provision than was previously available. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice publish a commitment to ensure that procurement beyond Day 1 will take place at a more local than regional level wherever appropriate and where suitable services exist, to ensure that the services procured meet specific local needs. We also recommend that the Ministry of Justice also keep and publish records of procurement at regional/local levels and the volume of work awarded to smaller providers. (Paragraph 86)

17.So far as Day 1 provision itself goes, we have heard convincing evidence that some services may not be available straight away and are not clear what will be provided for those people who would use them. We invite the Ministry of Justice to set out what initial provision will be offered on Day 1 to those who need financial, benefits and debt services no longer available, a need that may be exacerbated by the conditions created by the covid pandemic. We recognise that suitable services will be made available at a later date, but we seek clear information on when that will be. We recommend that the Ministry set out a post-Day 1 procurement timeline for services not in scope for Day 1. (Paragraph 87)

Through the Gate and the new Resettlement model

18.We welcome the additional investment the Ministry of Justice has made to improve Through the Gate service provision until existing contracts end. We are pleased that this additional investment has resulted in an improved service for those in need of resettlement support and we hope that the service continues to improve under the new model of probation. We particularly welcome the Ministry’s intention to improve the integration between prison and community. All this being said, we have heard from several witnesses that the new resettlement model lacks clarity, with some uncertainty about how the model will be delivered in practice. (Paragraph 101)

19.We recommend that the Ministry of Justice set out how they intend the new model to be delivered practically on a local level, and how the model will work alongside those services commissioned through the Dynamic Framework. The Ministry should detail how they will ensure the “in-reach” (pre-release contact between the probation offender manager and prisoner) aspect of the new model works in practice, considering challenges often faced in regard to security clearance, access to space and the operational capacity for prisons to deliver. (Paragraph 102)

20.We note that the new resettlement model is being developed alongside the Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) Model. While we welcome both models, our inquiry has highlighted some concern that the OMiC model has not yet been fully rolled out across the prison estate, which could affect implementation and success of the resettlement model. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice set out the status of roll-out of the OMiC model, including how many prisons are implementing the model fully, partially and not at all. Should the model not yet be fully implemented, we invite the Ministry to provide a timetable for its full roll-out. (Paragraph 103)


21.Probation Officers are fundamental to the delivery of probation, and we recognise the important role they play in supporting offenders and protecting the public. The Probation Service has historically faced difficulties with staffing levels, which has resulted in Probation Officers having very high caseloads, affecting their ability to manage risk and support offenders to rehabilitate. The Committee welcome the commitment to an additional 1,000 probation officers, but remain unclear whether this is additional to the existing vacancies. We recommend that the MoJ confirm whether the pledged 1,000 additional probation officers will be in addition to the 464 existing vacancies. (Paragraph 126)

22.We recognise that newly qualified probation officers and those still in training need training, development and support, and should have smaller caseloads, but we are concerned that in the interim, caseloads for qualified probation officers will remain high. While we appreciate that many variables make setting a target caseload difficult, it is clear from Inspectorate research that caseloads of more than 50 affect the quality of work, and thus the ability of probation to meet the aims of rehabilitation and public protection. We recommend that the MoJ commit to ensuring that individual caseloads do not exceed a baseline figure of 50. We recognise caseload numbers may fluctuate below this number, but they should not exceed it. The Ministry should also set out what work is being done to reduce caseloads, beyond the recruitment of additional probation officers and what support is available to staff with high caseloads, to ensure they are able to manage risk for all offenders in their caseload adequately. (Paragraph 127)

23.We are pleased to note the Ministry’s commitment to employing more ex-offenders and welcome HMPPS’ commitment to employing 150 ex-offenders in probation. We recommend that the MOJ and HMPPS set out a detailed timeline for how it will recruit and deploy these ex-offenders. (Paragraph 128)


24.Transition to the new model in the context of covid-19 presents a huge operational challenge, particularly for operating models, IT systems and building leases. The Ministry and HMPPS have assured us that work is under way to ensure transition is successfully and completed on schedule. We recommend that the Ministry publish a detailed timetable setting out milestones towards transition, and we seek a monthly update on the progress made against those targets. (Paragraph 142)

25.We are concerned to hear that some voluntary sector organisations do not feel sufficiently involved in the process to successfully manage transition. (Paragraph 143)

26.We recommend that the MOJ and HMPPS involve voluntary organisations and CRCs in relevant communications relating to transition. We recommend that the MOJ clarify to relevant voluntary sector supply chain partners their position in relation to TUPE, including what staff members are eligible and what contract they fall into. (Paragraph 144)

Published: 23 April 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement