The Revolving Door of Reform

Published 19/10/2018   |   Reading Time minutes

A probation system that works for Wales

In its recent consultation on reforms to the way probation is delivered in England and Wales, the UK Government recognises that a new model for the supervision of offenders in Wales is needed to improve the rehabilitative support for offenders. Criminal justice in Wales is a reserved matter and the responsibility of the UK Government. However, the proposed reforms recognise that the delivery of rehabilitation and resettlement services can be better integrated with key services that are devolved – health, housing, education, and social services, if the supervision of all offenders in Wales is brought into the National Probation Service (NPS). This means that the delivery of probation services in Wales will be fundamentally different to England.

Probation Service Reforms in England and Wales

Reforms to the way probation is delivered in England and Wales were set out by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in the consultation document ‘Strengthening probation, building confidence’ in July 2018, to strengthen the supervision of offenders and increase confidence in community sentences. The consultation closed on 21 September 2018.

In Wales, prison and probation services are currently overseen by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Wales. There is one Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) in Wales, and one NPS region. Under the new proposals, the NPS will manage all offenders, ending the current model where NPS manage higher-risk offenders, with the CRC managing low and medium-risk offenders. It means ending the current CRC contract two years early, in 2020.

‘Transforming Rehabilitation: A strategy for reform’

Since 2010, the scale of probation service reform has been unprecedented and controversial, attracting much criticism from the outset. The National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) has previously said that the changes introduced following publication of the UK Government’s strategy document ‘Transforming Rehabilitation: A strategy for reform’ in May 2013 have placed the public and probation staff at risk, with offenders not being supervised properly and ever increasing workloads.

One of the main changes introduced by the UK Government in 2014 was the introduction of independent providers to manage low and medium risk offenders. It involved splitting the probation service in two, with the public sector managing high risk offenders and providing services to the courts, and the new CRCs managing low and medium risk offenders.

Wales Community Rehabilitation Company is operated by Working Links.

Under the contracts, a substantial proportion of CRC income remains contingent on achieving reductions in reoffending. This requires providers to reduce both the number of people who reoffend and the number of reoffences committed by those who reoffend.

The House of Commons Library published a briefing paper in July 2018, which charts the progress of recent reforms to the probation service in England and Wales.

Delivery of the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ reform programme

Private probation providers have faced significant challenges. CRC performance, including the rehabilitation services provided to offenders and the delivery of through-the-gate services, are below expectations and have been criticised by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP).

The UK Government has accepted that there have been problems with the delivery of the reform programme, but has insisted that CRCs have been effective in reducing the overall number of people reoffending. The UK Government has blamed unforeseen changes in the types of offenders coming to the courts, and the sentences they receive, which they say have substantially reduced CRC income and affected the quality of frontline services. Overall, caseloads have increased due to the extension of post-release supervision to offenders sentenced to less than 12 months in custody.

Shifts in demand for probation services have also placed additional pressures on the NPS, and staff have been carrying high caseloads. This has been most notable in Wales where between 2014 and 2017 their caseloads rose by 27%.

The UK Government’s Public Accounts Committee found that the MoJ had yet to bring about a “rehabilitation revolution” and questioned the effectiveness of the reforms.

In 2017, both the Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service and the Chief Inspector of Probation said the new system is not working well.

The House of Commons Justice Committee’s report ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ published in June 2018, identified serious issues regarding the reforms, highlighting that probation services are critically underperforming and that the effectiveness of Transforming Rehabilitation is in serious doubt. The Committee concluded that it was “unconvinced that the TR model can ever deliver an effective or viable probation service”.

The future of the probation service in Wales

It is case that partners already come together collaboratively in Wales to join up the delivery of rehabilitation and resettlement services, including HMPPS Wales, Welsh Government, Public Health Wales, third-sector organisations and other partners. The ‘Framework to Support Positive Change for Those at Risk of Offending in Wales’ is an example of effective joint working between HMPPS Wales, the Welsh Government and key partners, and it sets out the priorities for reducing reoffending which are being delivered across Wales. However, the proposed probation reforms will provide an alternative delivery model in Wales, in which case some will argue that political accountability for the probation services in Wales should also be devolved to Wales. That maybe something the Commission on Justice will have a view on when it reports next year.

In the meantime, the UK Government’s priority is to ensure these latest reforms will not only keep the public safe, but will help to reduce reoffending. The probation service in Wales needs to command the confidence of the courts if the UK Government has any chance of reducing the prison population in England and Wales, and tackling the significant problems in our prisons. Less reliance on short custodial sentences is dependent on effective community sentences. Moreover, if offenders are to be given the support they need to contribute positively to the community and turn their lives around, the probation service in Wales needs to be effective - and stable.

Assembly Members will debate this issue in Plenary on Tuesday 23 October 2018.

Article by Sarah Hatherley, National Assembly for Wales Research Service