Friday, 11 August 2017

Another Academic Speaks Out

Thanks to the reader for pointing me in the direction of this article written by Christopher Kay of Loughborough University and on the Conversation website:-

Rise in crimes by offenders on probation is an indictment of privatisation

There has been a 26.4% increase in the number of serious offences committed by offenders on probation since the privatisation of the service in 2013. According to newly published data released to the Welsh party Plaid Cymru after a freedom of information request, there were 517 serious crimes in England and Wales in 2016-17 committed by those on probation, compared to 409 in 2012-13.

This rise is not due to a failing on the part of probation service staff to protect “us” from the risky “them”. It is the result of a poorly designed, poorly implemented privatisation agenda that has failed both offenders and victims alike.

In 2013, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government privatised the majority of the probation service in England and Wales as part of its Transforming Rehabilitation strategy. This involved the reallocation of most low and medium risk offenders to new, private sector Community Rehabilitation Companies who work on a payment-by-results basis.

The National Association of Probation Officers protested against the strategy and filed ultimately unsuccessful judicial reviews on behalf of increasingly disenfranchised probation officers. But these probation officers represented only one side of the coin which would, ultimately, decide the success of the reforms. And the voices of the offenders experiencing these changes were, and remain, almost unheard.

To understand why there has been an increase in serious further offences since the privatisation of the probation service, we need to understand what has happened to the rehabilitation of offenders as a result of these reforms.

A key relationship
In most cases, we know what works to help offenders stay out of trouble. Research has pointed to the value of meaningful employment and positive role models in aiding the transition towards “desistance” – the process which supports a crime-free life. This is underpinned by the relationship developed between an offender and their probation officer. This relationship, while maintaining an element of enforcement, provides an additional source of support when an offenders’ rehabilitation starts to go a little pear-shaped.

My work has emphasised the importance of this relationship. As one 23-year-old offender, who I’ll call Neil, told me in an interview:

The biggest things is that they are always there for you, if you have got something on your mind or you need some support with anything they are always there to pick up the phone or you can walk through that door and … I think that is one of the most important things, the door is always open.
Consistency was key for Neil, as it was for all of the offenders I interviewed for my PhD research into the ways the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms impacted upon young adult offenders’ ability to stay out of trouble. While some offenders I spoke to had experienced a number of different supervisory arrangements, the consistency of relationship developed between an offender and their probation officer was one of the most important factors for success.

Failing offenders
As a result of the disquiet surrounding the implementation of the Transforming Rehabilitation strategy, I have observed that there are still a number of vacancies in the probation service. This has had a knock-on effect on the rehabilitation of offenders in numerous ways.

First, the probation service is advertising for workers on a temporary or even “peripatetic” basis, akin to a locum doctor, in an attempt to even temporarily fill their vacancies. For some offenders, this means probation supervision lacks the consistency that is vital in order to promote a strong working relationship and support successful rehabilitation.

Another offender who I interviewed, 19-year-old Tom, told me:

When I got to know one worker they would quit their job and they would put someone else and it would be the same with rotation over and over again. Whereas these lot don’t quit on you, they do a lot for you, they help you.
Probation officer workloads have also increased significantly after the implementation of the new strategy, both as a result of increased offender numbers and fewer probation staff. Yet research has shown that as probation officer caseloads go up, so too do the number of offences committed by offenders in the community.

This should hardly be surprising: more offenders mean less time per offender, which makes it more likely that a “red flag” or cry for help will be missed. As one probation officer told me: “It’s the conversations that you are having with people [that] set little lightbulbs off in your head and you think this doesn’t sound right.”

Unfortunately, as another probation officer explained to me, it is these conversations that have been hit as a result of the new reforms. She said:

Those 20 minute appointments with somebody checking in after they have had thinking skills which are kind of a bit of a luxury, probably won’t happen. I don’t think the conversations will change, I just think we will have less of them.
The increase in serious further offences is indicative of the fact that the privatisation of the probation service is not working. This is the result of probation staff having to work within a system that is not fit for purpose. By failing those with whom it is tasked to work with, offenders in the community, the Transforming Rehabilitation strategy is also failing the victims of crime, and society as a whole.

Christopher Kay
Lecturer in Criminology and Social Policy, Loughborough University


  1. Well written. But the government don't give a damn about this monumental fuck up. They will probably wait at least another 10 years for this to bed in

  2. I take the point about the importance of relationships, but all the blame cannot be put on TR. The drift away from the centrality of relationship was well-established in public probation with the case management model, signposting and the low value given to relationships by What Works with its emphasis on measurements and various accredited interventions – and this low value was reflected in declining face-to-face time with 75% of working time spent doing virtual probation on keyboards. The demise in probation was a collaborative effort between its senior management and the masters of the universe in the the good old days.

  3. Yes I agree 08.00. TR has exacerbated the previouslt existing problem with the Case Management model where those we supervised were to be passed between PO and PSO (in some areas I think also Case Admin)like a parcel.With high NPS caseloads in our area pressure is on from management to transfer people to PSOs regardless of significance of relationship and trust built up. I know in some situations the case relationship is not a key factor so transfer of supervisor not a problem but decisions need making on case by case basis.

  4. In CGM Interswereve it's all about group ,group ,groups !! and sign posting to other agencies , this is supposedly to assist staff with large case loads - how this is effectively engaging people and building relationships remains a mystery ( obviously only the overlords know the secret - NOT ). As mentioned previously cases get moved ( for many reasons and not always about risk ) between grades - or because staff are so disillusioned they have left - one new release case I've recently been allocated asked how long I'd be around as I was his 5th officer - I attempted to reassure him that I've been around quite some time and wasn't going anywhere ( didn't want to tell him I was so fed up with all the shit we now have to contend with that I'm hanging on with my fingernails and actively seeking alternative employment ).

  5. I think Christopher Kay ( and his then team ) when at Manchester Uni was commissioned to complete work for Interswerve - I'm pretty sure he suggested in a report that "group inductions for offenders would be ineffective " suggesting that we continue with this being completed on a 1-1 basis- surprisingly enough ( NOT ) this was ignored as it was only a suggestion and group inductions are completed whether staff and experts alike feel that they're ineffective and absolutely shambolic.

  6. I think Christopher Kay is pushing against an open door here with those of us who have to manage this mess.
    In Interserve Merseyside , as has been well documented on this blog by colleagues along the M62 Corridor, we have caseloads of 78+ per PSO and 50+ per PO.I will not refer to the idiom of case manager or senior case manager as I cannot let go of the title Probation officer ... I've earned it..
    If a PSO holds say 78 cases in the community, and you can only offer 30 minutes face time or admin time per week that takes 39 hours work before you have even walked through the door on a Monday. Interserve have removed the admin support from Teams and we now do our own admin work. The CAs are now nothing more than Performance Monitors seconded to the empire building Performance Managers in the PSC. Output is king in interserve with Service Levels being the battle cry, whereas outcomes;( that stuff we actually deliver and can see something tangible and with meaning) are reduced to an irrelevance. The Interchange Managers (IMs) who do not deserve the title of SPO, don't ask anymore about what I actually deliver and how that is going, they only ask If I have met the service level.. job done..
    We literally signpost our clients to the road to nowhere... corners are being cut, mistakes are being made, and our risk management strategy is reduced to nothing more than let's cross our fingers and hope nothing happens. A very sad indictment of the state of play in what was once a proud profession...