The role of the Probation Service - Justice Committee Contents

2  The role of the probation service

The purpose of probation

The development of the probation service

27.  The probation service has its origins in the late nineteenth century when a philanthropist, Frederic Rainer, donated to enable voluntary support to be provided to offenders appearing before police courts in London. The Probation of Offenders Act 1907 provided for the statutory foundation of the probation service and made it possible for Magistrates' Courts to appoint probation officers who were paid by the local authority. The Act required probation officers to 'advise, assist and befriend' those under supervision.

28.  The probation service has since seen many changes (the most recent of which we described above), some of which have been reflected in the training arrangements for probation officers. For example, for most of the twentieth century, probation officers underwent the same professional education as social workers, but this was set aside in the mid-1990s when the Government decided that social work was an inappropriate way to understand the work of the service; the emphasis of the profession, reflected in the training curriculum, changed towards enforcement, rehabilitation and public protection. This was further cemented in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which defined the purposes of sentencing as: the punishment of offenders; crime reduction; the reform and rehabilitation of offenders; the protection of the public; and the making of reparation by offenders to persons affected by their crimes. Nevertheless, staff continue to emphasise the original values of probation, especially belief in the possibility of personal change, scepticism about the value of prison as the way to reduce crime, respect for diversity and the importance of professional relationships in enabling change.[13]

29.  The role of probation officers has shifted from solely providing a service to offenders in the community through the courts to providing through-care (in prison) and after-care (post-release supervision) to those who have received custodial sentences. At one time, magistrates' courts in particular expected what would today be regarded as a high level of staff to advise the Bench and provide reports; the Magistrates' Association regretted the current level of staffing in some courts.[14]

30.  Whilst the remit of the probation service and the way it is structured and governed have changed over the years, the supervision of offenders to prevent reoffending has always been at the centre of its work, even if it has not always been an explicit aim. The outgoing Chief Inspector of Probation, Andrew Bridges CBE, emphasised this:

What I would highlight is that there is far more continuity than there is change. I am not saying there has been no change at all, but even though there is a lot of group work and accredited programmes now—and don't forget there was group work being done 30 years ago—nevertheless, the heart of probation practice, and youth offending practice for that matter, is about using one's influencing skills in a one-to-one relationship. You are trying to use a relationship to achieve a purpose: the relationship isn't the end in itself. You are trying to get individuals to want to change and to make changes to themselves. You are often doing it with offenders whose probability of change is very low, with the really difficult ones. Anybody who had been a practitioner 40 years ago would still recognise that now, I would say.[15]

The current role of the probation service

Assessment and advice to courts

31.  Napo, the trade union and professional association for family court and probation staff, emphasised that probation work starts in court: "The probation service provides impartial, accurate, reliable, skilled and professional advice to assist the courts in making their decisions. Information is provided in writing and verbally and offers alternatives to custody wherever this is assessed as appropriate."[16] Probation Officers provide pre-sentence reports—oral, fast delivery and standard delivery reports, differentiated by the depth and detail of their assessment and the amount of time required for preparation—for court to assist sentencers in determining the most suitable method of dealing with an offender. In recent years, however, to try to reduce demand, sentencers have been encouraged not to ask for a full or standard delivery report unless absolutely necessary as they are an expensive resource and are the main impediment to equitable workload management. There was a significant change in approach to writing reports for courts in 2009 following the publication of probation circular 06/2009, Determining pre-sentence report type: an instruction to ensure that standard delivery reports are only used where it is not possible to provide sufficient information to meet the needs of the court within the fast delivery report format. Probation trust budgets were immediately reduced in 2009 on the assumption that most reports would follow the guidance.

32.  Witnesses who had recently been supervised by the probation service complained about not being given the time to understand what was happening at the start of an order. For example, one ex-offender referred to "information overload" and described his experience of what seems to have been sentencing following an oral pre-sentence report: "My worst [experience] is the court room being adjourned and me having five minutes to tell my whole life story to a probation officer in a room beside the court, for that to go in front of the judge and then to sentence me on the five minutes I had been given with the probation officer."[17] The Magistrates' Association told us how the process ought to work: "the quality of reports and assistance that is now given in the courts has significantly developed over the years and it is now possible if we are lucky enough to have a probation officer in engage in a dialogue and debate with the probation officer, the defendant and defendant's representative about what might be appropriate penalties, punishments or disposals that could be used in the courts."[18]


33.  The Chief Executive of the Staffordshire and West Midlands Probation Trust summarised the core elements of probation business: "More than any other agency or organisation the probation service links the different elements that make up good offender management (high quality assessment, robust management of contact and behaviour, and well-targeted interventions) and provides the link for other organisations to work in an integrated manner."[19] This emphasises one of the most fundamental changes to the role of the probation service in recent years: the introduction of end-to-end offender management for the supervision of offenders on community sentences and for those serving custodial sentences, both while they are in prison and after release. We look at this in more detail in Chapter 3.


34.  The Magistrates' Association sees the post-court role of probation staff as to: coordinate a sentence; monitor progress; ensure compliance; and monitor and report breaches.[20] As part of the coordination of a sentence, offender managers retain oversight of the various interventions that are required by the courts or that may assist the offender in tackling the factors that contribute to their offending. Offenders can be required to undertake programme requirements by the courts. For a time, beginning in the late 1990s, accredited programmes—designed on the basis of research on how best to influence people's attitudes and thinking— were seen as the main type of intervention to reduce re-offending and the way in which the probation service would demonstrate its effectiveness. Some programmes are generic (i.e. suitable for most offenders), while others were designed for particular types of offence (for example, sex offending or violence) or offender (e.g. Women's Acquisitive Crime Programme). Professor Kemshall mentioned the value of such programmes in managing some of the most serious offenders.[21]

35.  Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Probation Trust (CPPT) told us that: "There is currently a lack of clarity about what the term "Offender Management" means, and CPPT believes that offender management should mean the effective engagement of probation staff with offenders to impact positively on their offending behaviour, achieving a reduction in offending behaviour. Within NOMS it seems that currently offender management is seen as primarily an administrative process, within which the offender manager is responsible for overseeing and sequencing interventions with the offender. This, in our opinion, ignores the capability and potential of offender managers to engage positively with the offender to reduce their offending behaviour. The professional base, training, skills, knowledge and experience of probation staff put them in the best position to supervise offenders effectively." [22] This is echoed by the Probation Chiefs' Association.[23]


36.  According to the Ministry of Justice, there is clear evidence that it is the degree of offender engagement and the quality of the relationship that makes a difference with offenders and reduces reoffending.[24] Yet we have seen evidence which appears to support the point made by CPPT above the overly-administrative approach to engaging with offenders: Napo cited a leaked "restricted" MoJ report which outlines the results of a 2008 survey of direct contact with offenders which found that probation staff spend only 24% of their time in contact with offenders. Of the remainder, 41% of time was spent engaged in computer activity and 35% in non-computer activity for example drafting correspondence and reports, meetings and other administration. One probation officer said it was their impression that for every 15 minutes spent in fact-to-face contact, 15-30 minutes was spent recording it. The survey found that, increasingly, the main issue of bureaucracy and red tape refers to OASys (see below) and the amount of time spent on non-computer work.[25] Matthew Lay of trade union UNISON, which represents probation staff, emphasised that "if staff are going to engage more effectively with offenders in terms of face-to-face engagement, they have to have the time to do that."[26]

37.  When we asked Barrie Crook, Chief Executive, Hampshire Probation Trust and Learning and Development lead for Probation Chiefs' Association, whether it was correct that an offender might only be seen for ten minutes at an appointment, he replied: "That might be very true of someone who is perhaps a tier 2 offender, who may be in the middle of their order, for example, and might not need a great deal of time, but with a tier 4 case coming out of prison with MAPPA implications, an officer could spend several hours in that week working around that particular case, so I think it is extremely difficult to generalise."[27] However, Andrew Bridges explained that much non-contact time was likely to be spent on work connected with managing a case which could be as productive as the face-to-face contact: "the two thirds or three quarters of people who do the work well may have limited time but they are using it very purposefully. The really good ones don't need a lot of time to achieve a lot of purpose."[28]

38.  We heard evidence from four witnesses with direct and, in some cases, ongoing experience of being supervised by an offender manager; they discussed with us their relationship with their offender manager. One witness expressed succinctly how positive an experience working with an offender manager can be, leading directly to rehabilitation:

I've had a couple of probation orders and I've had ones from one end of the spectrum to the other. I've had one where I've actually built up a rapport with somebody and they've actually looked into my needs and actually built, you know, the probation order around the needs of myself to help me get better and that has actually got me to the stage where I'm at now. But I've also been given appointments where I've gone in, "Hi, I've signed in".[29]

Another was unhappy that hers was too much like a friend and not sufficiently assertive.[30] However, Jonathan Ledger, the General Secretary of Napo, did not believe that the example of an offender manager being too much like a friend was typical:

The idea of being soft is a misrepresentation of the general way staff indeed have to work these days in the context of enforcement and accountability. However, as you know, there has also been an increasing return to the concept of those one-to-one relationships and the key abilities and skills you need in order to develop relationships with the people with whom you work and for whom you have responsibility. [31]

39.  Research on the process of desistance—the process by which offenders come to stop offending and to develop useful lives in which offending has no place—commonly discovers the value of professional relationships in supporting this process.[32] Encouragement and personal concern can help people to recognise opportunities to change when they occur and boost motivation at times when offenders lose hope in the possibility of changing. Authority and challenge also have their place, but are most effective when the offender recognises the practitioner's concern for them as a person and a belief in the possibility that they can change. Ex-offenders often speak of the value of a probation officer's practical help in identifying and resolving obstacles to desistance, but especially emphasise the sense of personal interest and concern, of partnership and cooperation and even of a sense of loyalty and personal commitment to the probation officer that helped them to go straight.

40.  We accept that probation officers have to do a certain amount of work which does not involve dealing directly with offenders. However, it seems to us staggering that up to three-quarters of officers' time might be spent on work which does not involve direct engagement with offenders. No-one would suggest that it would be acceptable for teachers (who also have to do preparatory work and maintain paperwork) to spend three-quarters of their time not teaching. The value which really effective probation officers can add comes primarily from direct contact with offenders. While we do not want to impose a top-down, one-size-fits-all standard, it is imperative that NOMS and individual trusts take steps to increase the proportion of their time that probation staff spend with offenders. The MoJ and NOMS should state explicitly whether they support this aspiration; if they do, they should tell us how they intend to achieve it.


41.  Offender management has been subject to a great deal of prescription from the centre; it is currently supported by a comprehensive set of national standards, which set out in detail the frequency and timing of the minimum amount of contact with offenders of particular levels of risk. This represented the opposite of the laissez-faire approach adopted by the probation service until the 1990s when individual probation officers decided how often to see their 'cases'. The impact of central prescription is acknowledged by the Ministry of Justice which noted: "[c]hanges that have been made in recent years have improved overall performance and the quality of risk assessment and management. However, one consequence has been an increase in bureaucracy and over-reliance on processes. There has been a tendency to focus more on meeting process standards than on delivering outcomes, such as a reduction in reoffending."[33]

42.  The standards have recently been significantly streamlined—with the intention of providing trusts and offender managers with greater freedom to exercise professional discretion—and will be implemented by April 2012. This follows a period of piloting in Surrey and Sussex Probation Trust of a model that seems closer to how probation officers used to work. Sonia Crozier, the Chief Executive of the Trust, explained:

What we have learned over the year of running what has been called the "Professional Judgment Project" is that the probation staff feel more in control. They feel they have been given the right to apply common sense in terms of how resources are allocated, and they can also be more responsive to the offenders, so if people's circumstances change, they can either up the contact because it seems clear that more contact is required or they can make a sensible decision to reduce contact if in fact there is clear evidence that progress is being made. The appropriate use of discretion depends not only on common sense, but also on training, experience and guidance from colleagues. [34]

43.  The Probation Association supports the new approach. Its Chief Executive told us that "The coalition Government have grasped that outcomes rather than processes have to drive the system—very much so. We have a sense that although it may take time, there is an open mind and a willingness to start to trust trusts to manage their own businesses and not have to be told in mind-bending detail how to do it. With professional practice, we know best. We have efficient ways of delivering things."[35]

44.  West Yorkshire Probation Trust considered that the removal of rigid standards would result in a substantial saving in resources and the public would be better served as there would be more face-to-face work with the offenders.[36] Although the new standard potentially gives discretion back to professionals, it seems unlikely that trusts will not issue their own set of standards in order to use their resources most effectively. The outgoing Chief Inspector posed a question about this: "To illustrate the point, there are certain offenders under supervision who are in the relatively low seriousness level. National standards at the moment say you have to see them 16 times in 16 weeks. In future, are you going to set a local standard? What are trusts going to do about that? The new freedom is also a new problem. We will have to see how that unfolds."[37]

45.  Sue Hall of the Probation Chiefs' Association explained how she thought the standards would work in practice:

Revisions to national standards were recently announced on the regulatory requirements that probation officers work to. That gives them a much more professional judgment, so they will be able to use their judgment to decide whether they review the progress an offender is making on their order. My hope—I think this would be the same for all the probation chiefs—is that our high-risk, prolific offenders will get a higher level of contact and service, but judgment will be used. If there is a low-level offender and he's doing all right—coming in and complying—the time will not be put into doing a timely piece of work on review because that is what the book says. Judgment will be used, so some resource will be released in that direction.[38]

46.  According to the Chief Executive of the Surrey and Sussex Probation Trust, some probation officers have almost had to be re-trained to exercise this judgment with confidence: "We are also able to give some very clear indicators of things that trusts will need to put in place to bridge that generational gap and give freedoms to a whole generation of probation officers who were trained in a very rule-based approach."[39] The generation gap refers to staff in post before the prescriptive standards were imposed. Participants in our e-consultation generally welcomed the change but some raised concerns about the capacity of more recently trained staff to exercise the degree of professional judgment required. We consider below the training and recruitment implications of the new national standards.

47.  While the level and type of contact with offenders should depend on the individual's assessed needs and risks, rather than on the preferences of the practitioner, we welcome the increase in professional discretion provided by the streamlined national standards, and the assurances of many of the professionals concerned that this will allow them to do their jobs better and more efficiently.


48.  The role of probation practitioners has, to an extent, shifted from one of coaxing change in people to the "management" of risky people. The Offender Assessment System (OASys) is a national system for assessing the risks and needs of an offender in terms of the likelihood of reconviction, risk of harm to the public, and offending-related factors—known as 'criminogenic needs'—such as poor educational and employment skills, substance misuse, relationship problems and problems with thinking and attitude. The assessment informs probation's sentencing advice to the courts and is used in the offender management of sentenced offenders to help practitioners to make decisions about managing risk and tackling offending-related needs. OASys is a complex tool designed to help offender managers to: assess how likely an offender is to be reconvicted; identify the factors associated with an offender's own offending; assess the risk of harm an offender presents to others and of self-harm; link assessments with supervision and sentence plans; indicate the need for further specialist assessments; and measure how an offender changes during their sentence. It is also used to record the sentence plan and, in appropriate cases, the risk management plan.

49.  Witnesses and participants in our e-consultation broadly viewed OASys as a useful tool, but some felt that it was cumbersome and time-consuming to use, despite attempts that have been made to streamline it.[40] UNISON told us how OASys was viewed by practitioners: "we have had dialogue in the past about whether [it] could be made more user-friendly and some of the processes could be adapted to make it more streamlined. But I think there is generally support, particularly amongst our members, for the concept of OASys and what it delivers in terms of effective risk management and analysis of that risk."[41] Professor Kemshall highlighted that OASys is not always completed accurately: "OASys can still be inconsistently applied across all the trusts, and even, indeed, within a trust. Although it is still an important [key performance indicator] for probation, one could see the use of that KPI as driving that quality up, hopefully."[42]

50.  OASys is only a tool and probation officers in particular are trained to elicit and analyse information using OASys to guide them and then to make a judgment about what action to take. The outgoing Chief Inspector made a statement that quantified Professor Kemshall's impression: "We look at how often the right thing has been done with the right individual in the right way at the right time. We exercise qualitative judgment as to whether it has met the high level of quality we are looking for. Our measurement is about how often that is done. Nearly three quarters of the time, the work we are looking at is meeting the high level of quality we are looking for. That is quite a creditable achievement under difficult circumstances."[43] If OASys is not completed accurately and thoroughly 'the right thing' is unlikely to happen as it will not have been planned.


51.  The probation service has a statutory responsibility under the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 to keep the victims of certain offences informed about the progress of the sentence of the perpetrator of the offence against them. All victims or their families, in cases where there is a custodial sentence of 12 months or more for a sexual or violent offence, must be offered contact. Victim liaison officers are probation service officers who, in well run schemes, work closely with offender managers to ensure that they are kept up to date with changes. In particular, victims are informed about potential release dates. When plans are being made for the prisoner to be released the victim is invited to comment on them. For instance, if they fear they may be at risk of a further assault an exclusion or prohibited contact condition can be added to the licence.

52.  Despite this being one of the five stated purposes of sentencing, direct reparation to victims is rare. Restorative justice approaches were highlighted by our witnesses as an example of means to increase diversion from prosecution, make more creative use of community requirements and improve public confidence. Restorative justice is a concept that encompasses a range of approaches, including community payback; victim contact, such as a letter of apology; mediation, including direct contact between offender and victim; and direct reparation to the victim in cash or in kind. Our evidence suggested that there is considerable scope to expand the use of restorative justice for the victims of offenders on community sentences and under the supervision of probation services on post-custody licences. Witnesses highlighted a lack of post-sentence community-based restorative justice provision; approaches tend to be limited to reparation, for example, through community payback, or available on an ad hoc basis, for example, as part of a specific activity requirement attached to a community order or within intensive alternative to custody schemes.[44]

53.  There are particular gaps in the provision of opportunities for face-to-face restorative justice between victims and higher-risk offenders, possibly as a result of their resource- intensive nature.[45] The absence of nationwide provision not only denies victims who wish to meet the offender the opportunity to do so, but foregoes the opportunity for offenders to take responsibility for the harm they have caused, the impact of which may improve engagement and commitment to reform.[46]

54.  Thames Valley Restorative Justice Service stated that post-sentence restorative interventions should be considered, timed and sequenced as an integral part of supervision planning or sentence management processes and noted that the appropriate time to intervene must be a matter of judgment rather than rigid timetabling.[47] Some witnesses called for a formal restorative justice option for offenders under supervision, for example, a specific sentencing requirement.[48] Magistrates would also welcome more opportunities to use restorative justice, for example, as part of the sentence of the court.[49] Conversely, there are difficulties in making direct restoration enforceable so, in order to avoid misleading courts and victims by making restorative justice a court-ordered intervention, provision in Thames Valley is centred on a "presumption in favour of participation" for every offender on a community sentence.[50] Thames Valley Probation Trust considered that the area's model for the delivery of restorative justice could be nationally replicated.[51]

55.  Probation trusts are well placed to facilitate the delivery of restorative justice through effective partnerships with specialist organisations—the voluntary and community sector has particular expertise in this area—although the gaps identified above are unlikely to be plugged by the adoption of payment by results models. Northumbria Probation Trust explained that NOMS' appraisal of the costs expected to be incurred in work with victims under the Specification, Benchmarking and Costs programme allows little scope for trusts to expand into more sophisticated restorative justice approaches;[52] practitioners need to be highly trained so restorative justice is not a cheap response to crime.[53] While there is some evidence of the cost-effectiveness of restorative justice initiatives in reducing re-offending,[54] levels of victim satisfaction and community confidence are higher and Napo argued that these outcomes should be given greater weight when determining whether such schemes are worthy of investment.[55]

56.  We believe that restorative justice has the potential to be used more widely within the probation service and we think that HM Chief Inspector of Probation might usefully undertake some work into the current use of the approach and suggest how best practice might be disseminated. Basing commissioning on payment by results in reducing re-offending risks overlooking the importance of the rights of victims and the obligations of offenders towards them. The Government must give more consideration to how best to incentivise restorative justice measures to increase their availability so that every victim can be offered the chance to take part in restorative justice. There should also be an expectation that every offender should be faced with the consequences of their crime, and should, where possible, be offered the chance to make amends to the victim.

Working with particular groups of offenders

57.  Most offenders are male: women make up around 14% of the probation service's caseload and 5% of the prison population. There is evidence to show that even though most may not get caught, a surprisingly large proportion of men have at least one recorded conviction for a notifiable offence. With exceptions, women's offending is often a symptom of vulnerability that has led to abusive relationships or substance misuse, much more often than is the case for men. Since the publication of the Corston report in 2007 there has been cross-governmental activity aimed at changing women's experience of the criminal justice system and, in particular, keeping most of them out of prison. Those organisations that submitted evidence to us about this were negative about the capacity of probation trusts to deliver a differentiated service to women.[56] This extract from the Griffins Society is representative:

Women are particularly badly affected by supervision that focuses primarily on risk management instead of on providing help, support and guidance. The importance of positive relationships for women's ability to engage well with supervision tends to be overlooked by probation services, except in probation areas where women's centres provide holistic help and supervision for female offenders.[57]

58.  While there are examples of effective practice—for example, we heard in Brighton about a women's project, Inspire, where supervision in such a centre is provided as a Specific Activity Requirement—access to women's centres remains patchy.[58] In addition, where women pose a higher level of risk, they may be placed on mixed-sex programmes or programmes far from home, both of which discourage compliance.[59]

59.  The Griffins Society cited research by Plechowicz which explored the benefits of the attention given to relationships in the supervision of women at a women's centre in Wales.[60] Women offenders commented positively on the warmth and personal concern shown by their key workers. All felt these qualities enabled them to engage in supervision and benefit more from it than from the comparatively sterile relationships they had with their offender managers. Plechowicz concluded that "if the probation service wishe(s) to work more productively and effectively with its female clients, major changes will need to be made to current high caseloads, and less emphasis placed on current targets, to allow offender managers to have the time required to develop positive relationships with their cases". This was consistent with the view of Women in Prison, a voluntary organisation, and reiterates the importance of achieving effective relationships with offenders, as noted above.[61]

60.  The probation service's approach—where resources tend to be directed towards dealing with offenders who present the highest degree of risk—can fail adequately to support women offenders. The approach recommended by Baroness Corston for the provision of holistic services that address all women's needs is still a long way from being realised, even through this would greatly increase the effectiveness of probation work in diverting women from further offending. Rather than requiring extra resources, it would save public money by reducing the prison population and its associated heavy social costs.

61.  While most offenders are white, there remains a disproportionate number of offenders, particularly in prison, with a black or minority ethnic [BME] background. Clinks told us of the good work done by the voluntary and community sector (VCS), noting that "community-based [BME] organisations are effective at engaging with black offenders who may find it difficult to trust and relate to predominantly white organisations", but struck a note of caution, stating that "this part of the VCS is typically fragile and under-funded and often fails to attract the support that other parts of the VCS enjoy."[62]

62.  A number of probation trusts told us that, while efforts were made, there was more to be done in this regard. For example, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Probation Trust Board told us that it "works with partners to deliver effective services to different offender groups. It is vital that the Trust engages well with partners and community groups to ensure that the needs of all offenders are met. This is particularly important for the "hard to reach" group of offenders, particularly [BME] offenders. In CPPT there are effective arrangements in place for the Trust to engage with partners and community groups. It can never be said that an optimum performance in this regard has been achieved."[63] Similarly, the South Yorkshire Probation Trust told us that "Whilst we have made tremendous progress in responding to the needs of black and minority ethnic offenders, we accept that there is still progress to be made."[64]

63.   Most offenders are aged between 18 and 25. However, there is a growing number of much older men, typically 'lifers' and those convicted of sex offences against children and serving long sentences who are still subject to supervision past the age of 65 for whom there are few criminal justice resources.[65] There is also a need to improve provision of end-to-end offender management for foreign national offenders.[66]

64.  The Transition to Adulthood group told us about the particular challenges faced by young people in the criminal justice system:

Community sentences are proving disproportionately challenging for young adults to complete. Currently, young adults often receive the most punitive community sentences. Curfews, banned activities and unpaid work are common, making it harder not to breach the order, but lack the necessary support for young adults to fulfil the requirements.[67]

65.  Both the Transition to Adulthood Group and the Criminal Justice Alliance pointed to the lack of resources for dealing with substance misuse in some areas as a substantial barrier to young people stopping their involvement in crime.[68] Humberside Probation Trust highlighted that relatively small numbers meant that separate group provision for BME and young adult offenders was not feasible.[69]

66.  The people supervised by the probation service do not make up a homogenous group and have varied and complex needs. Interventions, for example, accredited programmes, have been developed to meet the needs of the majority: young, white men. Although some trusts do try to offer specialist services for others or to refer people into resources provided by others it appears to us that this is very much a work in progress. It is another area which we think might benefit from the scrutiny of HM Chief Inspector of Probation. Also, the Government should ensure that it considers the needs of minority groups when moving towards payment-by-results: contractual arrangements will need to ensure that appropriate services are provided for all offenders, and not just those who fall into the most common demographic.

Recruitment and training of offender managers

67.  As with any business or organisation, to do its work successfully the probation service needs to recruit, train and retain the right people. Lesley Thompson from the North West Probation Training Consortium summarised the values and skills employers look for in recruiting probation officers:

What we are looking for are values in equality and diversity, and a belief that an individual can change. We are looking for good communication skills, the ability to relate to others and the ability to engage with offenders. We are looking for good analytical skills and the ability to make judgments, to work with partners and to work in partnership with other people.[70]

68.  Mark Mitchell from the University of Portsmouth said that an important skill required by offender managers was confidence in their judgment and in their relationship with offenders.[71] This might apply particularly to Probation Service Officers who, as yet, are not professionally qualified; however, through training, supervision and experience they can develop the required confidence with the cases they manage. This point was supported by Barrie Crook of the Probation Chiefs' Association: "I think staff supervision and practice supervision are very important, particularly in terms of the element of judgment, because that kind of coaching is often the best way to help someone to reflect on their own judgment, looking at particular cases they may be handling or case material".[72]

69.  Jonathan Ledger of Napo described the skills he believed were required to work with offenders: "If you do not now know how to engage with people, how to get alongside them, you are very unlikely to start to be able to challenge them and make demands of them in terms of the behaviour they are presenting and actually effect change. You need those skills where you have the empathy and you know how to communicate with people […] "Tough" is sometimes misrepresented somehow as being distant and hard. But we do not need that; we need people who can get alongside others and then challenge and have some impact on people's attitudes and behaviour."[73] Professor Kemshall had a similar perspective from her experience of training probation officers: "I think there is a misunderstanding about the challenges faced within the job. You need high resilience because there can be a lot of failure. Sadly, people do come back. People don't always do what you think is right for them and, for some people, change is a very long journey; but also some people have done some terrifically awful things that have to be faced, talked about and changed."[74]

New probation qualifying training

70.  Probation officers are offender managers with qualifications in probation studies—or equivalent—who may undertake a range of statutory duties regarding the assessment and supervision of offenders. Probation service officers (PSOs) are not qualified probation workers. In recent years there has been a marked change in the make-up of the probation service workforce. Significantly, according to a study by Oldfield and Grimshaw, between 2001 and 2006-07 there was a 12% increase in probation officers (POs) and a 53% increase in the number of probation service officers (PSOs).[75] A new national probation qualifying framework (PQF) for training probation staff was introduced in April 2010, replacing the Diploma in Probation Studies which had been in place since 1998. The framework, which combines academic and work-based learning, has two routes to qualification as a probation officer. One enables PSOs or other candidates to study for a two year honours degree and one year probation specific national vocational qualification while remaining in their jobs. The other route, for those with a relevant degree, for example, criminology, criminal justice or community justice, shortens the training period to 15 months. It also provides for a minimum accredited qualification for new PSOs. Existing PSOs are expected to have obtained this qualification within 3-5 years. Trusts, Napo and UNISON overwhelmingly welcomed the new framework and its ability to encompass the development of both probation officer and probation service officer grades.[76] Humberside Probation Trust expected that it would produce high quality probation officers—as the previous arrangements did—noting the importance of the retention of a higher level academic qualification.[77] UNISON applauded its emphasis on "on the job" training.[78]


71.  As we noted above, the Government has begun a process of enabling frontline staff to exercise a greater degree of professional judgment, the first stage of which has been to reduce the volume of national standards to which they are required to adhere in their supervision of offenders. The Professional Judgment pilot hosted by Sussex and Surrey Probation Trust exposed a "generational gap", whereby recently trained officers had been taught to adopt a predominantly "rule-based approach".[79] John Steele, Chair of the Trust explained: "The nature of what makes a good officer has changed. It used to be the person who ticked all the boxes and got everything in on time. Now you're looking for slightly different skills and a slightly different approach."[80] During the pilot this was managed by encouraging staff to record what they do, and what their thought process was, rather than tick boxes.[81] We heard that the new training arrangements are designed to strike a balance between enabling staff to fulfil the administrative requirements of the role as well as building effective relationships with offenders and honing professional judgment.[82] Barrie Crook, Chief Executive, Hampshire Probation Trust and Learning and Development lead for Probation Chiefs' Association, believed that the supervision element of the training was valuable in enabling staff to gain the self-awareness confidently to exercise professional judgment;[83] this is in addition to assessments of judgment that are made at recruitment stage and as trainees develop and practice their skills through the training itself.[84]

72.  There appears to be a good balance in the new training arrangements between providing staff with the skills to understand and interpret risk and to challenge and motivate offenders. The quality both of the recruitment process and of supervision arrangements within individual trusts are of utmost importance in ensuring that newly trained staff will have the confidence to operate safely in the context of fewer national standards, and in preventing probation trusts from becoming equally constrained by being too risk averse.

73.  Mr Wilkinson and Ms Thompson envisaged that the new arrangements would make workforce planning easier.[85] Mr Wilkinson explained: "My ambition here is that we will have a cadre of people in the service—PSOs in the service—that are ready to become probation officers. They are properly trained, they are ready and they are still working as PSOs, but when there is a probation officer vacancy, they can be moved into that and such like. So you have got an internal talent pipeline rather than having to anticipate three years hence your probation officer needs, as used to be the case under the diploma, and having to take an educated guess about how many staff you would need in three years' time."[86] However, Mr Lay was more sceptical, suggesting that there was little incentive for a PSO to undertake training to become a PO in the absence of a guaranteed job.[87] The Probation Association and Probation Chiefs' Association also expressed concerns about the length of time it would take to train PSO staff.[88] There are also workload considerations, both in terms of the PSO's own duties and those of their supervisors.

74.  While witnesses acknowledged that it is early days in the implementation of PQF, there are some indications that fewer than anticipated staff are taking advantage of the new arrangements, perhaps because they see limited opportunity for progression in the current financial environment[89] or because of heavy workloads. Christine Lawrie, Chief Executive of the Probation Association, explained the impact of budget cuts meant that some areas had been unable to recruit new entrants.[90] The decisions that some trusts have taken to prioritise the retention of qualified probation officers over probation service officers will also undoubtedly have an impact. Napo expressed frustration regarding the Unions', NOMS' and trusts' inability to reach national agreements on national quotas to facilitate workforce planning and protected study time, both of which were left to local discretion.[91] The impact of budget cuts on trusts' prioritisation of training and study time may be reflected both in low take-up nationally and in high attrition rates in some areas, for example, London.[92] Professor Kemshall believed that the recruitment process could be strengthened to reduce attrition rates because in her experience some trainees misunderstand the challenges faced within the job, including the resilience required to deal with disappointment and failure, and the mismatch between direct work with offenders and the administration and bureaucracy required.[93] London Probation Trust suggested that there is scope for strengthening the PQF by widening the participation of professionals from other sectors and for increasing the level of multi-disciplinary delivery of training within the PQF.[94] The Criminal Justice Alliance argued that there was a need for probation staff to receive mental health and learning disability awareness training.[95]

75.  Although the new probation qualifying framework was designed to open new routes to qualification there are concerns that it will not deliver a steady flow of qualified probation service officers and probation officers. There is a significant risk of a shortfall of trained probation officers in future as budget cuts have impacted on the take-up of training and trusts and the Government needs to have regard to this.


76.  Post-qualification training is predominantly the responsibility of individual trusts, although training arrangements for accredited programmes are organised nationally. Although all probation trusts have training programmes in place, our evidence suggested that there is a lack of consistency in access to professional development training.[96] According to the Probation Chiefs' Association, this may be partly attributed to trusts' need to focus on preparing staff to implement the plethora of Government initiatives that have affected probation in recent years.[97] The Probation Chiefs' Association and Humberside Probation Trust raised difficulties with the national training arrangements for accredited programmes which were not thought to be sufficiently flexible to meet local needs.[98]

77.  Some trusts did not have problems with the existing local arrangements, for example, Northumbria Probation Trust welcomed the ability to run a range of non-accredited courses based on locally identified needs;[99] trusts have also capitalised on their ability to "sell" their expertise to other professionals, for example, by providing risk assessment training to the police and prisons.[100] Nevertheless, the absence of a national post-qualification training framework was raised as a particular concern by numerous trusts as well as the trade unions.[101] Mr Wilkinson, Head of HR, NOMS, was clear that he saw this as the responsibility of individual trusts.[102] On the other hand, Mr Woods of Skills for Justice and Lesley Thompson, Director of the North West Training Consortium[103] saw the qualifying training framework as a useful basis for further development, for example, by "grafting on" specialist accredited training.[104] Professor Kemshall made some observations of the benefits of such an approach: "it would help if we could see a clear pathway of building competence…within the workforce. We should not accept that, after the training period, [a trained officer] enter[s] on day one and [is] equipped to do everything. That is clearly not the case. [New officers] need to learn a range of skills and competencies to deal with more challenging types of offender and offence types and more challenging types of risk throughout [their] career […] an awful lot of in-service training is by self-selection…and much of that training is then not assessed in terms of competence on the job."[105]

78.  Trusts, the Probation Association and the Probation Chiefs' Association also raised concerns about shortcomings in leadership and management training arrangements, with potential implications both for succession planning and for trusts' ability to meet their responsibilities as joint local commissioners.[106] Bedfordshire Probation Trust stated that the service as a whole has adopted a "piecemeal attitude" to management training.[107] Resources for management and leadership development have not yet been devolved to trusts, yet probation staff had not been a focus of NOMS' senior management development training.[108] The Probation Chiefs' Association and the Probation Association shared a belief that a proportion of NOMS' national resources for leadership development should be allocated to trusts.[109]

79.  The new probation qualifying framework should be used as basis for building a national system of accredited training for post-qualification development, including leadership and management training, so that there is a consistent quality of training available to trusts and to any new providers of probation services. If significant commissioning responsibilities are given to trusts—a policy which we question later in this Report—then it will be necessary for NOMS to devolve an appropriate allocation of its resources for management and leadership to enable trusts to purchase the training, contract management and governance skills required.

13   For example, Ev w64 Back

14   Ev 219; Q 557 Back

15   Q 299; see also Ev w64 Back

16   Ev 84  Back

17   Qq 2; 43 Back

18   Q 557 Back

19   Ev w5 Back

20   Ev 219 Back

21   Q 647 Back

22   Ev w93  Back

23   Ev 156  Back

24   Ev 167 Back

25   Ev 184; Ministry of Justice, Objective 11-Offender Management Direct Contact Survey of Probation Boards and Probation Trusts, December 2008  Back

26   Q 378 Back

27   Q 166 Back

28   Q 304 Back

29   Q 10 Back

30   Q 23  Back

31   Q 371  Back

32   For example, Ev 196; 156; 203; w125;180; 229 Back

33   Ev 167 Back

34   Q 493 Back

35   Q 339 Back

36   Ev w144 Back

37   Q 294  Back

38   Q 335  Back

39   Q 500  Back

40   See e.g. Ev 184; w26; w125; 144; 180. See also Ev 231 Back

41   Q 364 Back

42   Q 647 Back

43   Q 302 Back

44   Ev 184; 173; w 35; w52; w85; w89; w99 Back

45   Ev w6; 196 Back

46   Ev w35; w41; w48; Ev 200; w103 Back

47   Ev w35 Back

48   Ev w41; w44; 216; w99 Back

49   Q 590 [Mr Thornhill] Back

50   Ev w35 Back

51   Ev w52 Back

52   Ev w85, see also Ev w133 Back

53   Ev w99; 200; w114 Back

54   For example, the Transition to Adulthood Alliance commissioned Matrix Evidence to conduct cost-benefit research on the diversion of young adults from community sentences into pre-court restorative justice conferences, see
Ev 200 . See also Ev w133. 

55   Ev 184; w44; w52; w80 Back

56   Ev w89 Back

57   Ev w13; see also w134, 153  Back

58   Q 492; see also Ev w21; w89 Back

59   Ev w89 Back

60   Ev w13 Back

61   Ev w118 Back

62   Ev 196 Back

63   Ev w93 Back

64   Ev w125 Back

65   Ev w134; w151 Back

66   Ev w55 Back

67   Ev w107  Back

68   Ev w89  Back

69   Ev w95 Back

70   Q 174 Back

71   Q 180  Back

72   Ibid. Back

73   Q 371  Back

74   Q 685 Back

75   Oldfield, M. and Grimshaw, R, Probation Resources, Staffing and Workloads 2001-2008 (revised edition), London, 2010: Centre for Crime and Justice Studies  Back

76   Ev w6; w18; w26; 156; w44; w48; w80; 216; w85; w95; w103; w125; Q 400 [Mr Ledger and Mr Lay] Back

77   Ev w95 Back

78   Q 400 Back

79   Q 500 Back

80   Ibid. Back

81   Ibid. Back

82   Qq 179-180 Back

83   Q 180 Back

84   Q 179 Back

85   Q 183 [Ms Thompson]; Q199 [Mr Wilkinson]  Back

86   Q 199 Back

87   Q 400 Back

88   Ev 173; Ev 156 Back

89   Q 400 [Mr Lay]; Q 402 [Mr Ledger] Back

90   Q 336; see also Ev 156 Back

91   Q 400 Back

92   Q 400; Q 404. It should be noted that training issues in London may not be typical of other trusts.  Back

93   Q 686 Back

94   Ev w99 Back

95   Ev w89  Back

96   Ev 156; 173; w38; w48. In June 2010, HM Inspectorates of Constabulary and Probation recommended better training for staff working with high risk sex offenders.  Back

97   Ev 156 Back

98   Ev 156; w95 Back

99   Ev w85; see also Ev w95 Back

100   Ev w85 Back

101   Ev w26; w48; 216; Q 406 [Mr Ledger] Back

102   Q 207 Back

103   Regional training consortia (comprised of area probation boards) were responsible for delivering the training in collaboration with a contracted university provider under the previous training arrangements. Only two regional consortia still exist as probation trusts have devised other collective arrangements for the delivery of training in other areas. Back

104   Q 189; Q 207  Back

105   Q 683 Back

106   Ev 173; 156; w93; w95 Back

107   Ev w122 Back

108   Ev 216; w93; w95 Back

109   Ev 173; 156 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 27 July 2011