Taking stock of developments in probation services across England and Wales, and looking forward to how the landscape may look in months to come, HM Inspectorate of Probation's Chief Inspector of Probation, Justin Russell, shares some reflections and key points for consideration.
It has been a testing and challenging time for all those working in and around probation, not least because the merging of services into the public sector came amidst the continuing impact of Covid-19.
What we, at the Inspectorate, know is that probation services can adapt to change – proven by the professionalism applied to using the exceptional delivery models (EDM) during the pandemic and the calm, organised approach to unification. Like many in the criminal justice system, I welcome the move back into the public sector and efforts to ensure the service can run as smoothly and effectively as possible. We know Transforming Rehabilitation brought few successes – a flawed model which offered little in the way of financial backing or structural stability.
The quality of probation supervision will not improve merely by lifting and shifting large volumes of cases from the private sector into the public sector. Vacancies for probation officers must be filled and staff properly trained for their new responsibilities. The positive innovations that the private companies brought with them must not be lost. For the 220,000 people on probation there must be effective programmes that truly look to prevent reoffending, and victims must be properly supported and informed.
Offender management has been no less affected by previous structures than any other area of probation. We know that the past six years have been difficult for many services struggling with high caseloads and staff under relentless pressure, inevitably resulting in poorer quality supervision.
The new, unified Probation Service brings opportunities. It is a chance for the service to come together to speak with one voice. Day one, or 100 days in, is just the beginning of long-term journey for probation that will require sustained investment and commitment to this transformation.