The Changing Landscape of Probation Services: A Path Towards Rehabilitation and Public Safety

An Overview of the Current Probation Services Landscape

At present, there are over 250,000 people under the supervision of probation services, either supported in custody or monitored through community sentencing, at any one time. Probation services are at the heart of an effective criminal justice system, thus it is essential that those in charge of overseeing and enforcing probation services truly understand how to deliver them.

In 2014, under the then-Justice Secretary, probation services were split between the public and private sectors, with the former managing high-risk criminals, and the 21 private companies - also known as Community Rehabilitation Service (CRC) - becoming responsible for the supervision of 150,000 low-to-medium-risk offenders. However, a freedom of information request in 2018 revealed a darker picture on a national scale, with a rise of 21% in 2017-18 in serious further offences (SFO) reviews since the previous year. Such an increase is significant as SFO reviews are triggered when an offender under statutory probation supervision is charged with serious violent or sexual offences, including murder and manslaughter.

Proposed Changes to the Model

As a result of this, new changes were proposed in the Draft Operation Blueprint published by the HM Prison and Probation Service in 2019. This Blueprint proposes the renationalisation of probation services by Spring 2021, meaning that the National Probation Service (NPS) would gain the statutory and management responsibilities of all offenders, whether low, medium, or high-risk.

Proposed changes in addition to terminating the CRC contracts also include the creation of at least ten NPS regions in England and one in Wales, which will be overseen by a regional probation director and will ensure that the caseload remains manageable in each region. Moreover, there is a greater focus on improving and enhancing the quality of offender management by developing and implementing new national standards and clear frameworks for staffing ratios and caseloads.                                       

Though the Blueprint does recognise that all the pressure cannot rest on the NPS, it pledges to create a Dynamic Framework for resettlement and rehabilitative interventions. It will operate at a national level and will allow the NPS to directly commission services at regional or local level on a scale that is responsive to the needs of local areas.

In addition to the Blueprint, the vision to transform rehabilitation services is built on the successful elements of the existing system whilst enhancing the work of the NPS, as well as maximising the skills of the private and voluntary sectors. As part of this, in 2019, the Government announced £280 million a year for probation intervention from the private and voluntary sectors, acting as ‘innovation partners’ of the NPS, responsible for the direct provision of unpaid work and accredited programmes. In turn, this will ensure the NPS is supported in identifying, encouraging and delivering greater innovation for vital services, including substance misuse programmes, training courses, community payback and housing support.

What's next?

With reoffending costing about £18.1 billion to the Government a year, and with recent figures showing that offenders serving sentences of less than 12 weeks had a reoffending rate of 65%, the move toward building a robust system becomes of utmost importance.

Through the harnessing of skills of the voluntary and private sectors, and drawing on expertise from the NPS, the future of probation services sets an ambitious future of boosting rehabilitation and standards.

Ultimately, the public’s safety should remain a priority, whilst ensuring that all offenders have a chance at effective and supportive rehabilitation and integration within their communities.