SECTION C: INCREASING THE EFFECTIVENESS
OF COMMUNITY SENTENCES
(ii) The Probation Service
of the probation service
104. While the probation service is not alone in
administering alternatives to prison sentences, they have principal
responsibility for the supervision of offenders in the community.
Therefore the success, or otherwise, of alternatives to prison
sentences will be dependent on the professionalism of the probation
105. Even the most critical commentators on the probation
service from whom we heardMr Peter Coad and Mr David Fraser,
both retired Senior Probation Officersstated that "the
probation service could not be more dedicated".
However, they did condemn what they saw as the ideological standpoint
of NAPO, claiming that "by the 1970s, NAPO had become dominated
by Marxist activists"
and that "the majority of probation officers are not really
aware of the subtle infiltration of this type of ideology, they
just go along with what is being said to them in a vociferous
Coad also claimed that "sensible people were not actually
allowed at NAPO conferences to speak; if they got up and said
something contrary to the ideology they were literally shrieked
[at] and howled down".
When it was suggested to Mr Coad that this description of NAPO,
whether or not it had been true in earlier decades, was not now
true, he responded that they no longer have to engage in this
behaviour " because they are now established, they are kings,
as it were".
When it was suggested that some kind of anti-prisons conspiracy
had therefore triumphed, he agreed "absolutely".
106. The idea that an anti-prisons conspiracy had
triumphed in the probation service was not shared by other witnesses,
although a number accepted that the service had lost sight of
its legitimate objectives in earlier years. Mr Tim Workman, the
Metropolitan stipendiary magistrate, told us that "in the
late 'seventies and early 'eighties...[the probation service]
held ideological views that were inconsistent with the responsibilities
of the courts. Today, most probation officers see their role as
being within the court and the criminal justice system and that
the older ideological beliefs while still there have receded considerably".
Mr Paul Cavadino was asked whether he accepted the proposition
that the probation service had 'lost its way' in the 1970s and
replied "yes, but I think the extent to which it happened
has been exaggerated in some of the evidence you have received.
Nevertheless, I think there was a flavour of that in some of the
things that were happening in the probation service at that time.
It no longer is the case".
Mr John Hicks of ACOP, responding to the charge that the probation
service was anti-prison said that "there was a time when
that might have been true but it is not true now".
We also note the comments of Lord Bingham, the Lord Chief Justice,
that "the probation service themselves recognise that there
has been a change in their role. It was a valuable and respected
role as the guide, philosopher and friend of the offender and
that role should persist. There is also an added dimension as
taskmaster and representative with a duty to make sure that the
rules the court has laid down are complied with. That is much
more rigorously done than it was".
Far from viewing the probation service as a hot-bed of Marxist
conspirators, we were pleased to note that in a survey of over
600 magistrates and 30 judges not a single sentencer responded
that they were 'not at all satisfied' with the work of the service,
that only 10 and 15 per cent respectively were 'not very satisfied',
with the remainder 'quite' or 'very satisfied'.
(We discuss this survey at paragraph 131 below).
107. One alleged instance of anti-prison bias demonstrated
by the probation service, is the reluctance of officers to include
custody as an option in pre-sentence reports. National Standards
state that a pre-sentence report is "a report in writing,
made or submitted...by a probation officer or a social worker
of a local authority social services department, with a view to
assisting the court in determining the most suitable method of
dealing with an offender which imposes a restriction on liberty
commensurate with the seriousness of the offence".
They do this by giving an analysis of the offence (which will
not express a judgement regarding the seriousness of the offence,
as that is for the court to decide, but will outline the context
in which the offence took place and an assessment of the consequences
of the crime, including the impact on the victim); by providing
information about the offender, including details of relevant
personal and social factors; by assessing the risk to the public
of reoffending; and by giving a conclusion, which should include
a sentence proposal. Where a community sentence programme would
not be appropriate, "the report should make it clear that
such a programme cannot be proposed and why".
If custody is a likely option, the report should identify any
adverse expected effects for the offender and his or her family,
and his or her education or employment.
108. Mr Peter Coad stated that "It is interesting
that the probation service never recommend a prison sentence".
Mr Tim Workman stated that he could never remember having seen
a report which recommended imprisonment, although he continued
"however, in fairness to the probation service, reports contain
phrases such as 'We are unable to recommend any community sentence',
which is shorthand for saying, 'We can't do anything, so it's
over to you. If you have to use imprisonment, so be it'".
Mrs Anne Fuller, of the Magistrates' Association added that "quite
often we see reports which address the community sentences that
are available and clearly state why each one is not appropriate.
Occasionally, they will say that there is a very strong risk that
the person will reoffend. It is not really coded. It may
not say at the end, 'Therefore, we recommend a custodial sentence',
but that is what the report says".
The Prisons and Probation Minister denied that reports never included
proposals for custody, as she herself had seen one which did,
although she did accept that most reports proposed non-custodial
it may not be the case that pre-sentence reports never propose
custodial sentences, it remains the case that they rarely do so
explicitly. We recommend that National Standards be amended so
that pre-sentence reports not only have to make it clear where
non-custodial sentences have been considered to be inappropriate,
but that they state explicitly that "a custodial option appears
to be the only option available to the court", or words to
109. We are pleased to note that the vast majority
of sentencers are satisfied with the work of the probation service
and that there is widespread recognition that the performance
of the probation service has improved since the 1970s, when it
appeared to have lost sight of its primary duty to protect society.
During our visits to probation services we were consistently impressed
by the dedication demonstrated by probation officers, and by their
realisation that protecting the public must be their priority.
110. The Home Office provides 80 per cent of probation
service funding with the remainder coming from local authorities.
As the table below shows, in 1998/99 the grant from the Home Office
was approximately £343m;
this represented a 6% rise in cash terms since 1994/95, but a
fall in real terms of 5%. Probation services have had to absorb
the real terms reduction through efficiency savings.
Probation service central government support
per cent change
111. At the same time probation service caseloads
have been increasing. The total number of offenders supervised
by the probation service increased by 35 per cent from 136,000
in 1992 to 184,700 in 1997. Much of this work involves pre- and
post-release work with prisoners and the increased workload is
partly the result of the increased prison population. ACOP estimated
that it costs probation services £1m to work with every 1,000
additional prisoners requiring supervision.
As we have already noted, the prison population has risen by over
20,000 since 1993.
112. This funding situation has meant that staff
numbers have reduced. ACOP stated that "over the last three
years staff numbers have decreased by more than 500 each year.
Further reductions of this scale are having to be made this year".
While they emphasised that probation services were doing their
best to preserve frontline services which protect the public from
potentially dangerous offenders, they said that the following
work had experienced cuts: crime prevention; work with unconvicted
offenders; assessment of prisoners prior to release and resettlement
planning; bail information schemes; and visits to victims of serious
crimes. They also stated that voluntary supervision (unpaid work
where the probation service maintain contact with released prisoners
beyond the statutory period) had dropped from 23,000 cases to
4,300 in five years.
113. ACOP also make the case that, while they support
the Crime and Disorder Bill's proposals,
they were concerned that the probation service might not be able
to meet the new requirements made of it as a result. They state
that the following parts of the Bill will require the "primary
or secondary involvement of the probation service: anti-social
behaviour orders, ...local crime strategies, racially aggravated
offences, youth justice services and youth offending teams, supervision
of sex and violent offenders, drug treatment and testing orders,
reparation orders,...home detention curfews".
114. In the view of Ms Helen Schofield of NAPO the
cuts meant that frontline services were already facing a crisis;
she claimed that: "The crisis is imminent in terms of staffing
levels. We are reaching a situation now in some services, and
I do not think anybody would be unhappy about my saying this,
in which in order to sustain the intensive programme and to maintain
National Standards the actual supervision of individuals, particularly
after the first three months, is being undertaken by staff who
are not probation officers, and in some services by volunteers.
In terms of public protection, I feel the supervision of offenders
by volunteers, untrained, unpaid, unqualified, unaccountable,
is extremely serious".
115. The Probation Inspectorate did not think the
situation was this desperate. Mr Graham Smith told us that "we
do not see any evidence that I think would convince you that the
quality of the service has declined even though there are many
fewer staff working with many more orders...The service has never
been more efficient and it has had to be because it has taken
these cuts and still coped with more work and we still do not
see any reduction in quality". However, he did also point
out that the failure to meet National Standards was linked to
the funding situation, and that some of the 54 probation services
were "closer to trouble than others". He pointed out
that costs varied significantly around the country and that this
was an area the Inspectorate intended to look into.
116. The Prisons and Probation Minister reminded
us that "the Comprehensive Spending Review has been taking
place and it has to look at the priorities of Government and look
at the ways of resourcing those priorities. That obviously includes
the work of the probation service. We are certainly aware that
the probation service's workload has increased a lot... I also
think that there are some ways of getting further efficiencies
in the probation service. Some of the ideas in connection with
the Prison and Probation Review are capable of doing that in my
view, particularly in terms of rationalising boundaries. I think
also, although it may be more of a spend-to-save than an immediate
saving option, that a great deal of improvement in information
technology could help a lot in streamlining the work of the service".
The Minister also pointed out that there were potential savings
to be made in the probation service by the increased use of group
work, and that such work is in accordance with the "What
117. Responding to the point that the Crime and Disorder
Bill will make more demands of the probation service, the Minister
told us that the Bill's measures overallnot just those
affecting the probation servicehad been costed at £130m,
but that "some of the measures which the probation service
will have a responsibility for are ones that are being piloted
in the first instance and will not have a national impact on the
probation service. But nonetheless the kind of tasks that the
probation service is being asked to carry out are ones which have
been put into the Comprehensive Spending Review and the findings
of that review will therefore take that into account".
118. In so far as cuts in resources for the probation
service have led to genuine efficiency savings, then they need
not be a cause of concern, but we note the view from some quarters
of the service that the cuts have gone significantly beyond this.
119. It must also be a cause of concern that,
as we noted earlier, the current funding situation means that
probation services cannot meet National Standardsthe "basic
minimum set of requirements", as ACOP called them. If, despite
increasing their efficiency, the probation service is consistently
failing to meet these standards, the Government should ensure
it has the resources to do so.
120. Since our visits to probation services around
the country, and since the oral evidence was taken, the results
of the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review have been announced.
The Home Secretary has indicated that the allocations of central
government grant for the probation service will be £347m
for 1999/00, £371m for 2000/01, and £396m for 2001/02.
These represent annual increases of 5.5%, 6.9%, and 6.7%. Probation
services, as with other parts of the criminal justice system,
will also be able to bid for additional funds for projects arising
under the crime reduction strategy announced at the same time.
121. The Association of Chief Officers of Probation
has given a cautious welcome to the new funding plans, indicating
that they were "encouraged that the trend has been reversed"
but that the allocated core funding would not in itself be sufficient
to deliver the new responsibilities contained in the Crime and
Similarly NAPO welcomed the fact that the settlement meant that
"we are now looking at sustained growth for the probation
service over the next three years at least" but also expressed
concern that "it is difficult to see how the extra funds
will fully meet the new work arising from the Crime and Disorder
122. We welcome the financial provision made for
the probation service in the Home Secretary's announcement, which
should make possible some real expansion in the work of the service.
How far this will be so will depend on the extent to which the
cash figures turn out to exceed actual inflation, and the extent
to which the service is able to make further efficiency savings.
However, we note continuing concern from within the service
as to the extent to which it will be able to realise the programme
of reforms under the Crime and Disorder Bill. As the various reforms
are brought in the Government must ensure that probation services
are properly funded to enable them to achieve their full intended
123. As well as the overall level of funding of the
probation service, one further aspect of probation service funding
which concerns us is the current system by which funds are allocated
to individual probation services. Calculated under a complex formula,
probation areas are funded predominantly in proportion to their
workloads, such as the numbers of pre-sentence reports submitted
to court and new orders supervised, with an allowance for the
demographic characteristics of the areas they serve. This has
the effect of rewarding those areas which can maintain a high
throughput of cases and takes no account of the effectiveness
of a service in reducing offending by those under its supervision.
As Mr John Crawforth, Chief Probation Officer of Lancashire Probation
Service, pointed out, "the present resource allocation model
encourages probation areas to maintain high numbers of offenders
under supervision even if that supervision is of no proven effectiveness
in reducing their criminality".
124. Mr Crawforth's comments were made in the context
of the Burnley-Dordrecht scheme which focusses high levels of
supervision by a probation officer, together with police surveillance,
on a small number (perhaps twenty in any one year) of highly persistent
offenders. The Burnley-Dordrecht scheme has yet to prove its effectiveness
but, if the initial encouraging indications are confirmed and
similar schemes are set up in other areas, the perverse incentives
which characterise the present resource allocation model will
become even more problematic. While recognising that to allocate
probation resources partly on the basis of outcomes in reducing
crime would be complex, we recommend that the funding formula
for individual probation services be re-examined so that probation
services are not discouraged from developing imaginative new approaches
to reducing offending.
of the probation service
125. The probation service is comprised of 54 individual
probation services, which are each headed by a Chief Probation
Officer. The absence of a single organisation has prompted calls
for the service to be unified. Sir David Ramsbotham, HM Chief
Inspector of Prisons made such a call: "I personally think
this is probably a radical thought on it that it
is time that the probation service was made a national service
and came under national jurisdiction like the Prison Service.
This is because again there is tremendous unevenness in what is
done in different probation areas around the country. That is
not to blame the individual probation officers so much. If we
are going to stiffen up on what is done as a community sentence...then
it ought to be dictated rather more and structured rather more".
Sir David went on to explain that following the establishment
of a national service, he would like to see the probation service
merge with the Prison Service.
126. The National Association of Probation Officers
supported the setting up of a single probation service: "there
are still 54 separate probation services each following its own
local priorities, and in many instances those local priorities
are inconsistent with those of their neighbours. NAPO believes
that this system is no longer viable, indeed that the structures
are anachronistic. NAPO believes there is an overwhelming case
for reducing the number of services and for co-terminous boundaries
with other criminal justice agencies. Substantial savings on bureaucracy
could be made and transferred to frontline services. NAPO is concerned
that traditionally there has been no voice as there is with the
Prison Service to represent and argue the probation service's
case in government and in public expenditure rounds".
127. Mr Graham Smith, the Chief Inspector of Probation
acknowledged that there would be advantages in a single service,
especially in advancing the Inspectorate's cause of increasing
effectiveness, but went on to say: "However, there is something
essentially local about crime, that it is different in Powys from
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and also people respond to local crime so
that the probation service is much more popular in the local community
with the local press than, for example, it is with the national
press who generally tend to dismiss it and not to be very complimentary.
If a national service damaged those local roots, I would have
considerable anxiety." He concluded that he would be "cautious"
about creating a national service.
128. This issue will be one of a number which has
been looked at in the review of the work of the Prison and probation
services announced by the Home Secretary last July. The Prisons
and Probation Minister told us: "Obviously some people have
felt...that probation can suffer from not having a very obvious
national voice and often the contrast is made with, say, the national
organisation of the Prison Service where the Prison Service tends
to have a high profile in public terms and the probation service
does not. ...Also, in terms of the 54 areas, the argument has
frequently been put forward that very often those boundaries are
not coterminous with any other parts of the criminal justice system
and that makes communication difficult between different parts
of the system and therefore some rationalisation is probably a
good idea. What we do need to do...is strike a balance between
the need to have good National Standards and a national profile
for the probation service on the one hand and yet allow much of
the good local and regional partnerships that have been built
up to continue. It is self-evident that the probation service
needs a good, close working relationship with the Prison Service.
We are also very much aware that the probation service needs a
good working relationship at local level with the Police Service,
with local authorities, social services departments in particular,
health authorities, education authorities and so on".
129. We look forward to the outcome of the prison-probation
review. We note with interest the requests put to us by the Chief
Inspector of Prisons and by NAPO for the creation of a single
probation service. We appreciate the caution expressed by the
Chief Inspector of Probation concerning the local nature of crime,
but we also note that he perceived advantages in the creation
of a single service.
129 Q 174 Back
4, para 24. Back
the Satisfaction of Courts with the Probation Service,
Home Office Research Study 144, 1995, p 29. Back
Standards for the Supervision of Offenders in the Community,
Home Office, 1995, p 7. Back
p 11. Back
Office Annual Report 1998,
Table 13. I, comprising £329m current grant and £14m
capital grant. Back
Probation Inspectorate has estimated that there has been a real
terms cut over the four years of 8% (Q 473); ACOP have calculated
that the real terms reduction over the period for probation services
was 25%, if the cash figures are adjusted by the specific inflation
factors applicable to probation work rather than the GDP deflator
(Briefing to Members of Parliament 4 June 1998). Back
Office Annual Report 1998
Table 13i. Back
prices adjusted using the GDP deflator. Back
for Members of Parliament, ACOP
4 June 1998. Back
151 ibid. Back
the time of agreeing this Report, the Crime and Disorder Bill
had completed all its Parliamentary stages but had not yet received
Royal Assent. Back
153 ibid. Back
Office Probation Circular 45/98 21 July 1998. Back
over three years has been allocated to this strategy: see Home
Secretary's statement of 21 July 1998 Official Report cols
Press Notice 21 July 1998. Back
circular 22 July 1998. Back