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Displaying items by tag: probation review

Last Thursday I met a young man who was recently released from prison. He only served a five month sentence (for a violent offence) but he felt his time in prison had a significant impact on both his life chances and mental health. I’ll call the young man Gavin. Gavin’s short sentence had been served between Brixton and another jail where he served the majority of his time.

One characteristic Gavin describes as common in both establishments is the absolute structure of the regime. He described being in prison as ‘calm’ with few incidents of violence but little evidence of machismo or bullying. Gavin said he avoided any eye contact at all for the most part, but he noticed few people starting fights or ‘looking for trouble’. He felt safe, even in Brixton on remand. This may be a contrast to what many people on remand experience. Gavin, however, felt a sense of reprieve.

Since his release, shortly before our chance meeting (not in a professional context), Gavin had struggled to cope. He described being in a McDonalds in Tottenham as a really frightening experience where the volatility and non-verbal aggression between young men was palpable.
For Gavin, this was proving really difficult to manage. His own anger and resulting violent assault played on his mind. During our meeting, Gavin was conscious of feeling he had been unjustly treated, unheard and was completely unable to access relevant and necessary support. For him, issues of family and his own paternity were significant and he felt no one was able or willing to help him. He might even be right.

Few professionals have the time, patience, scope or remit to be able to work effectively and intensively enough with Gavin. His drug intervention programme (DIP) worker had lost his trust (‘she writes everything down and I know she’s going to use it against me one day. In court probably. What is she writing it all down for?’) and his probation worker no longer needed to see him. So Gavin presents a perfect example of the people most likely to slip through the cracks that may well emerge from the implementation of the Probation Review. Multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA) are applied to the highest risk, serious, sexual or violent offenders with sentences over 12 months.

These people who have been sanctioned by the criminal justice system are the least likely to reoffend and least likely to escalate their offences. Having already committed some of the most serious offences they tend to comply with probation orders, licence or the regime of a long sentence.

MAPPA will make up the core of what remains within the probation remit after the review. So, highly skilled and trained professionals with many years experience will be able to concentrate on a small group of fairly low-risk (in terms of reoffending) adults.

The review will mean that other, traditional probation services will be commissioned out. So, people like Gavin may be dealt with by private providers or voluntary sector organisations who win contracts to pick up what was probation work. This may prove to be an excellent improvement or at least may ensure maintenance of quality of service. It will require particular skills and expertise however. Gavin represents a group of (particularly) young men who are at the beginning of a criminal career which has great potential to escalate in both frequency and gravity of offence. He has already committed a violent assault and by his own admission, can see himself doing something similar again. He is angry, hurt, isolated and afraid. He is one of the least likely people to engage effectively with statutory services or ‘orders’ precisely because he is suspicious of people watching him, recording him and waiting to ‘get’ him.  Gavin needs a lot of time and consistent, professionally boundaried attention. He has multiple and complex needs and he will be selective as to whom he chooses to work with. Gavin is highly intelligent and creative; with a great capacity for manipulation.

For Gavin, being in prison was like being underwater- the calm, heavy silence of the regime dulled his senses and repressed his violent attitudes; he was scared. Being out of prison is like popping up to the surface with the noise and smells and sights of daily life in full techno-colour.

Gavin is scared. And I can imagine some people finding him a bit scary too sometimes.

Published in Have your say

The much anticipated probation review was published yesterday. It is open to consultation until June 22. At the same time the government is also consulting on the reform of community sentences.

Media coverage in advance of publication of the community sentences review dwelt on satellite tracking and other suitably tough sounding measures. Whether greater toughness and surveillance is really what is needed for effective community sentences is, I think, open to question. In any case these are but an intensification of policy the coalition inherited from the last Labour government rather than a radical departure.

The vision set out in the probation review may not attract as much attention. It does, however, signal a potentially very radical change to the nature of probation work in England and Wales. Indeed it is not fanciful to suggest that under these plans the Probation Service could cease to exist as a distinct and defined area of criminal justice practice within a decade.

Under the proposals some 60 per cent of probation work by value will be subject to competition. These include: community payback, electronic monitoring, bail accommodation and support services, approved premises, attendance centres, victim liaison, accredited programmes, activity requirements, supervision and some aspects of offender management.

Given the complexity inherent in a range of providers all delivering different interventions to the same person, the Review proposes to ‘retain with Probation Trusts key public interest decision points for all offenders’. This includes initial risk assessments, court and Parole Board reports, breach and recall action, certain ‘offender management’ decisions and the supervision and management of those deemed to pose a high risk (so-called MAPPA cases).

In summary, Probation Trusts take on a role as commissioners of most probation services, while retaining a diminished role in the delivery of certain specified probation activities.

So what happens if a Probation Trust wants to bid to deliver interventions subject to competition? To guard against possible conflict of interest – a Trust as commissioner awarding itself the delivery contract – the Review proposes a purchaser-provider split. This will ensure ‘a clear distinction between those Probation Trusts which retain the functions of commissioning, managing higher risk offenders and taking public interest decisions and those Probation Trusts which chose to compete to provide services’.

It will be interesting to see how this dual Trust model – those that specialise in commissioning in contrast to those that specialise in delivery – will work in practice.

The Review also points to the ‘potential over time for other public bodies, such as local authorities or, with a broadened statutory role, Police and Crime Commissioners to take responsibility for probation services’.

This opens up the intriguing possibility of a longer-term move in England and Wales towards the Scottish model of probation where, as ‘Criminal Justice Social Work’, it is the responsibility of local authorities alongside other welfare services.

This revolution in probation work may not attract the attention and public controversy of the recent NHS reforms. But within probation its implications are at least as far-reaching.


Published in Have your say