Supplementary note by Mr David Fraser
and Mr Peter Coad
A RESPONSE TO THE ASSOCIATION OF CHIEF OFFICERS
OF PROBATION EVIDENCE
ACOP in its introductory summary of written
evidence defines the purpose of the Probation Service as a Service
to the courts and the public by:
1. Supervising offenders
in the community.
2. Helping offenders
lead law abiding lives.
3. To protect the public.
4. To reduce reoffending.
5. To rehabilitate the
As far as the supervision of criminals is concerned,
their failure is dramatic.
The vast majority of offenders on probation
are without remorse and unmotivated to reform. The majority are
on a basic probation order, many for a two year period. The contact
requirement over a two year period according to National Standards
is a basic 18 hours. To claim that such superficial supervision
for persistent offenders is effective is nonsense.
The majority on probation are males under the
age of 30 years. The low statistic of the over 30 years age group
aggregated with the under 30 years much higher statistic shows
a misleading 62 per cent. The average reconviction rate of the
18-29 age group are a more realistic 67 per cent. Calculated on
the same basis, Probation Centre reconviction rates are 78 per
cent and Combination Orders is 66 per cent. All those statistics
seen against a 4.9 per cent detection rate suggests a reoffending
rate of over 90 per cent. Clearly such reoffending rates do not
protect the public, it does not reduce offending and does not
rehabilitate offenders. Community Service Orders also have disappointing
reconviction rates. For males in the 18-29 age group the reconviction
rate is nearly 60 per cent.
The above statistics are taken from Home Office
Statistical Bulletin, Issue 6/97 dated 24 March 1997. (They can
be seen in Annex D in our original submission*).
The anti-prison lobby often complain that, due
to lack of resources, most probationers do not get the well structured
programmes that would be so helpful to them. Probation Centre
Orders, the supervision flagships of the Probation Service, provide
numerous courses designed to meet special/individual needs of
clients. Yet they have the highest reconviction rates of all types
Persistent offenders can not be programmed to
reform. It must be the decision of the individual; we all know
that from our own lives.
When giving oral evidence it was pointed out
to John Hicks that as the prison population increased the crime
rate was falling. Nevertheless, he still stuck to his ideological
guns that too many people are in prison. He would still rather
keep persistent offenders in society victimising the general public.
In spite of insisting that community supervision must be effective
he still defends failed probation policies.
In his oral evidence, John Hicks claimed that
72 per cent of probation orders and 71 per cent of community service
orders are successfully completed. Successful completion means
that, in spite of further conviction while under supervision,
as long as courts allow the order to be completed, the case is
deemed to be successful; the probationer might have committed
scores of crimes.
In an awesome example of linguistic gobbledegook,
the Greater Manchester Probation Service in one of their propaganda
papers, describes their success rate in the following terms, "83
per cent of probation orders achieved successful completion, mostly
by the offender meeting these requirements and obligations but,
including with this definition of success, those cases requiring
enforcement action by the supervisor, where the court concludes
that the purpose of the order can be sustained".
In Section 7, pages 11 and 12 of ACOP's written
submission, there is the claim that "75-90 per cent successful
completion of Orders is remarkable". Indeed the claim is
nothing less than remarkable considering the official Home Office
In a survey of 30 per cent of CPO annual reports
to probation committees, the average rate of success claimed was
83 per cent. It is no wonder that magistrates express satisfaction
with the Probation Service.
On page 4 of ACOP's written evidence, they still
make the ridiculous comparison between the annual cost of a probation
order at £2,280 and prison at £24,178 and conclude that
probation is cheaper. Such a comparison takes no account of the
£30 billion estimate of the cost of crime to the nation.
For persistent offenders, prison is a bargain that must not be
ignored. The £2,280 for probation is simply the administrative
cost of supervision.
On page 3 of the written evidence, there is
a reference to bail hostels which "provide 24 hour surveillance
and monitoring . . .". That is yet another astonishing claim.
With slight local variations, bailees are free to roam committing
crimes at will from 7.30 am to 11.30 pm, unsupervised and unmonitored.
Bail hostels are considered a menace by the police.
In Section 7, page 11 of ACOP's paper, there
is a reference to the Kent Reconviction Study 1991, cited to support
the alleged success of the Probation Service. The full title of
the research is "The Kent Reconviction Study: A Five Year
Survey of Reconvictions amongst Offenders made subject to Probation
Orders in 1991". This survey has been given much publicity
by ACOP and other anti-prison organisations. It purports to compare
the "success" rates of those discharged from prison
with probationers supervised by the Kent Probation Service. This
research is remarkable in that:
1. It attempts to compare prison and probation
reconviction rates while admitting that "we were unable to
obtain prison data due to constraints of time".
2. To support the validity of the research,
it states that it extracted its information from the Kent Probation
Service PROBIS database. PROBIS is a notoriously misleading database
and is currently being replaced by the Home Office.
3. The most remarkable achievement of the
Kent research is that it was published five months ahead of the
five year period. Who but the anti-prison lobby would apply such
uncritical appraisal to such a flawed piece of research? What
faith can be applied to a researcher unable to count up to five?
The Kent study refers to "pseudo reconvictions",
a statistical ploy to reduce the reality of reconviction rates.
Pseudo reconvictions are offences for which a probationer is convicted
during the course of supervision but actually committed before
the probation order was imposed. The generally accepted reduction
is 4 per cent. That sounds all very reasonable until it is pointed
out that no such allowance is made for crimes committed during
the course of a probation order but dealt with after the period
of probation has terminated. This is yet another example of deception;
we ignore it on the basis that the two statistics will even out.
We refer to the Summary, page 1 and page 6.
Colin Roberts of the Probation Studies Unit at Oxford University
is referred to as "independent of ACOP". While we in
no way impugn the integrity of Mr Roberts we do question his judgement
and independence of ACOP. The wife of Mr Roberts is Jenny Roberts,
Chief Probation Officer of Hereford and Worcester, an active member
of ACOP and we think, a former chairman of ACOP. We are of the
opinion that Mr Roberts is of the same ideological mould as ACOP.
A research document by Mrs Roberts, published
in 1994 "Young Offenders Project 1984-1989: Discovering
what works" was evaluated by her husband; we were surprised
that a 68 per cent reconviction rate was presented as a success.
We noted that the paper by Colin Roberts commissioned by ACOP
to support their evidence refers to "evidence of likely effective
interventions of community sentences . . ." This is marked
in contrast to the confidence in the effectiveness of community
supervision evident in much of the other ACOP evidence.
The Probation Service has inflicted a self-imposed
embargo on recommending custodial sentences. There is no rule
stopping them, only their ideology. The Probation Service also
has the capability of predicting the likelihood of reoffending,
not only from their own professional experience but also by using
well tried predictor processes. The Offender Group Reconviction
Scale is a good example. Some probation areas have used this device
but never include such vital information in their Pre Sentence
Reports. We understand that they are used to target those most
likely to be sent to prison so that sentencers can be encouraged
to use community based sentences. Clearly sentencers are not to
be trusted with this information. So much for ACOP's claim that
protecting the public is a priority.
We remind the Select Committee of the evidence
presented by Professor Ken Pease who pointed out that "comparison
of sentence effects must take place on a level playing field,
ie not one upon which ideology, professional self-interest or
kindliness give an unwarranted advantage to community sentences".
Thus to compare the effectiveness of prison with probation, logically
effectiveness must be judged from the dates both sentences start.
Therefore a 21 year old given a prison sentence incarcerating
him for a total of two years will have no reconvictions during
that two year period compared with a 66 per cent reconviction
rate for a probationer of the same age group.
We have not responded to all the oral and written
evidence submitted by ACOP. We believe however, that this paper
provides sufficient evidence to demolish the validity of most
of their evidence.
10 February 1998
73 Not printed. Back