Supplementary notes by the Association
of Chief Officers of Probation
RESPONSE TO THE HOME AFFAIRS COMMITTEE FROM
THE ASSOCIATION OF CHIEF OFFICERS OF PROBATION FOLLOWING EVIDENCE
GIVEN ON 20 JANUARY 1998
It is proposed in the following to answer the
questions raised whilst giving evidence and also to deal with
some additional points.
The Committee questioned the use of the term
"client" within the probation service, referring to
people under supervision. This term is used routinely by those
in the legal profession and in social services, but its use is
not encouraged in the probation service and never used by ACOP.
Managers in the service have encouraged probation
staff to be as precise as possible by using terms such as, "offender
on probation", "offender under supervision", "released
prisoner", or "offender on community service".
Although the term "client" may not be extinct in the
probation service, it is on the way out.
On the day of ACOP's evidence to the Committee,
Mr Mullin suggested that he had heard a probation officer using
the term "client" on Radio 4's Today programme. We have
investigated and established that the only law and order item
carried on that day's Today programme did not involve probation.
However, a Manchester psychiatrist, Dr Anne Jasper, was interviewed,
talking about violence and girls, and she did use terms like "helping-agencies".
It is our experience that others appearing on the broadcast media
are often mistaken for probation officers.
As Mr Hicks indicated in his evidence in a response
to a question from Mr Hogg, there does not appear to be any substantive
research into why the majority of people who appear before the
courts do not return a second time. In the view of Dr Colin Roberts,
a number of deterrent factors will operate in such cases, such
as the fact of being caught in the first instance, the contact
with the police, and the impact of the court appearance itself.
Similar factors may well account for the fact that first time
cautions have as good a success rate as first time court appearances.
Mr Linton requested information on the actual
figures being supervised by the probation service at any one time.
The figures taken from the Probation Statistics 1996 indicate
that at the end of December 1996 the number of persons supervised
were as follows:
|Community Service order
|Children and Young Persons Act 1969
|Money payment supervision orders
|Young offenders post release
|Adult statutory post release
|Discretionary Conditional Release
|Pre release supervisionstatutory
|Pre release supervisionvoluntary
A question was raised by the chairman as to
the availability of secure training centres for very young offenders.
At present the only contract which has been let is for a centre
for 12-14 year olds in Kent. This is going to be run by Group
4. It is ACOP's understanding that the remaining five contracts
are not being actively pursued at this stage. ACOP considers that
the money would be better used to develop the facilities that
local authorities already have, thereby ensuring that young people
are dealt with closer to their home, within a framework which
offers control yet retains a level of care and education and operates
policies which are consistent with the age of the offender, including,
for example, child protection and anti bullying.
Attached is a list of mediation schemes operating
up and down the country.
This shows that there are at least 46 schemes operating in all
parts of England and Wales. The establishment of victim offender
mediation schemes is far more common than the Committee may have
thought: we are delighted that the espousal of such schemes by
the Thames Valley Police has at last attracted positive media
attention! The results of such schemes are highly encouraging:
recent evaluation of a scheme in Leeds has shown that 5 per cent
fewer were reconvicted following mediation than was predicted.
Of those reconvicted 54 per cent committed offences of a less
serious type. Of 28 victim feedback questionnaires returned, 26
indicated that they were very satisfied or satisfied with the
service and 21 were satisfied or very satisfied with the outcome.
This is just one example of the many schemes which exist and to
which visits can be arranged.
In response to questions from Mr Allan, Mr Winnick,
Mr Hogg and Mr Malin, more information is supplied on this area
as requested. In a study undertaken by Roger Hood for the Commission
for Racial Equality of sentencing in the Crown Court of Afro-Caribbean
defendants, he found that ethnic minority offenders accounted
for 28 per cent of all the men sentenced in the West Midlands
Crown Courts in 1989. This was more than twice their proportion
in the population at large (12.5 per cent). Afro-Caribbeans were
8.2 per cent higher than the proportion of whites sent into custody
(56.6 per cent v 48.4 per cent). (Any differences related to previous
convictions, nature of offence, etc. were controlled within the
statistical analysis.) He also showed that black and Asian offenders
were more likely to appear in court already in custody, to plead
not guilty and to be without benefit of a social enquiry report
(now pre sentence report). All three factors were associated with
a greater probability of a custodial sentence and a longer sentence.
The Probation Statistics 1996 provide a range
of information on ethnic origin including the commencement of
community orders by ethnic group and the percentage by probation
area compared with census information. This shows for example
that 10.2 per cent of offenders who commenced community service
were from an ethnic minority group compared to 6.8 per cent of
the resident population being from an ethnic minority group.
In terms of staff, 8.4 per cent of all probation
service staff come from ethnic minorities as do 12.8 per cent
of volunteers. This compares to 6.1 per cent of the general population
of working age, taken from the 1991 census figures.
The probation service like many organisations
has often been guilty of reinventing the wheel, however in 1996
HM Chief Inspector of Probation established jointly with ACOP
a "What Works" project to provide best practice guidance
to probation areas with regard to the effective types of programming
appropriate for supervising offenders in the community. This report
was published in January 1998 and was launched at a three day
event in February attended by senior managers from the probation
services across the country. This will be supplemented by an effective
practice guide aimed at middle managers and practitioners. ACOP
has worked very closely with the inspectorate and the Home Office
Probation Unit on this particular project and will continue to
do so. ACOP is also using a probation network of research and
information staff to further disseminate good practice. ACOP contributes
to the funding of the Probation Studies Unit at Oxford University
because we are committed to developing the research base of the
service, which has not been fully developed in the past. ACOP
also fully supports, both on a regional and national basis, events
which are designed to share good practice and has a member of
staff on secondment, specifically dedicated to the development
of effective practice.
The main criticisms and ideas on the probation
service put forward by Mr Coad fall into four categories:
of probation based on false or misleading statistics;
patterns to suppress the use of prison against the interests of
to continue offending whilst under probation supervision; and
the idea that
probation services' energies should be restricted to offenders
who are motivated to change.
The comments ACOP would wish to make on these
points are as follows:
Overselling of community sentences, based on false
or misleading reconviction data and success rates
All information used by the Association of Chief
Officers of Probation (ACOP) is either drawn from Home Office
statistics, from reputable research staff within local probation
services or from academics studying the work of probation services.
Naturally we have always sought to draw attention to our "good
news" but the suggestion of deception cannot be sustained
by anyone who has studied the published figures.
The Committee will be aware of the inadequacies
of generalised reconviction rates and will know that they are
disappointingly high for all types of sentences, except those
used on low level or occasional offenders (cautions and fines).
ACOP has never resisted this point but has encouraged the study
and dissemination of the programmes that show signs of success
in reducing crime.
ACOP does not subscribe to the idea that community
sentences are somehow in competition with custody. Alongside our
colleagues in the prison service, we believe that probation and
prison services are partners in providing sentences for use by
the courts. Our joint aim is to make these sentences effective
and appropriate, and to protect the public in the short- and long-term.
In criminal justice practice there is no ideological turf war
between the use of prison and the use of probation-run sentences.
The notion of an "anti-custody" stance within the probation
service is outdated. It was fostered by some during the "prison
works" policy phase of the previous Government.
ACOP acknowledges and supports the use of custody
as a means of punishment and public protection. However very few
go as far as Mr Coad in seeing prison as the panacea to this country's
complex problems of law and order: and fewer still see it as an
The probation service is responsible for exerting
undue influence over sentencers, either by anti-prison propaganda
or through pre-sentence reports
This is very far from the truth. Judges and
magistrates are neither slaves to PSRs nor are they the type of
people who would unquestioningly follow imaginary probation propoganda.
Mr Coad's view that they are somehow under the spell of the probation
service is a slur on their integrity.
In writing pre-sentence reports Home Office
National Standards require probation officers to propose community
disposals where they consider it appropriate. Their assessments
must also include assessing risk to the public of further offending
and the impact of the crime upon the victim. According to Home
Office research (Home Office Research and Statistics Directorate
research study No 48), based on a 1995 survey, only 7 per cent
of magistrates' "found PSRs (were) seldom or not at all useful".
Following intensive work by ACOP, HM Inspectors and the Magistrates'
Association, ACOP believes that this figure has probably dropped
Probation practice and operations are monitored
by its Inspectorate and regulated and directed by the Home Office
and Government Ministers. The suggestion that the probation service
is involved in some type of a conspiracy is firmly rejected.
Community sentences allow offenders to continue
offending whilst under supervision
While under supervision in the community some
offenders can and do re-offend. This does not mean that the probation
service tolerates or condones offending. Community sentences are
passed when a sentencer considers they fit the crime and that
reoffending can be curtailed or suppressed to a greater degree,
or for a longer period, than a prison sentence can achieve. Mr
Coad fails to understand the task required of sentencers in taking
a range of different factors into account when choosing a sentence.
Strict procedures exist for enforcing the requirements
of probation-run orders. Breach procedures have been significantly
tightened in recent years and any offender not complying with
their order is dealt with according to Home Office national standards.
Depending on the type of order they are on between one in five
and one in three offenders who breach their order will face immediate
It is universally agreed that prison can have
a damaging effect on some people, confirming or deepening their
criminal behaviour. This particularly applies to young people;
a point amplified by several recent reports by Her Majesty's Chief
Inspector of Prisons. Magistrates and judges take this into account
when passing sentence and seek to strike a balance. Again, Mr
Coad fails to understand this and appears to believe that the
experience of prison has no potential to worsen, rather than improve,
ACOP is actively involved in relieving the plight
of victims of crime. The service undertakes direct work with the
victims, or relatives of victims, of serious violent and sexual
crimes. These are aspects of probation work that have been introduced
within the past five years which may account for Mr Coad's inaccurate
analysis of our position. All of the criminal work of the probation
service is aimed at reducing offending for the benefit of actual
and potential victims.
Probation supervision should be restricted to
offenders who are motivated to change
This is a sentimental plea for the probation
service to return to its roots when it operated more as a social
welfare service. Nowadays the probation service is a professional
and sophisticated discipline that has developed well-recognised
expertise in working with difficult offenders and assessing the
risk they pose.
Techniques used by supervising probation officers,
and as part of groupwork programmes, are very often "motivational".
These can turn an offender from somebody who does not want to
change, or denies the need to change, into somebody motivated
to stop offending. This often applies to persistent offenders,
for instance drug using offenders responsible for hundreds of
acquisitive crimes, or young men with a compulsive habit to take
cars. This contributes significantly to making the public safer;
for instance in the cases of intransigent violent and sexual offenders.
Abandoning this would be illogical and irresponsible; decreasing,
rather than increasing, public safety.
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