The Future of Probation IT: Streamlining Processes and Enhancing Rehabilitation

Evelyn Woodland
January 6, 2023

With more than a quarter of a million people in the UK on probation, probation services are looking to technology to streamline traditional processes. There has been a big push towards using new technology, such as moving towards increased bandwidth across sites, the employment of collaboration tools and the enrolment onto Microsoft’s Evergreen service.

But what is meant by the ‘future of probation IT’?

At the Modernising Criminal Justice Conference 2021, attendees were fortunate to join the webinar, ‘The Future of IT for Probation’, headed by Mark Stanley, Deputy Director of Digital Probation, Justice Digital and Technology at the Ministry of Justice.

The webinar explored:

  • The current pain points the probation services are facing
  • The new services and products in development
  • ‘Day 1’ and how it's being used as a springboard for further improvements

 

The Meaning of Probation IT

The scope of probation IT is broad. “In probation, there are two main systems,” Stanley stated. “One is called National Delius and one is called OASys. OASys spans prison and probation and National Delius is really used by probation staff as the authority system of record.”

Within probation, data is important. However, the issue is, as Stanley mentioned, the data is often “held hostage” by systems that “don’t talk to each other.” And these systems are large — National Delius itself has around 2.7 million lines of code. So on top of this complexity, what are the pain points?

  1. The existing software is outdated and difficult to update
  2. Front-line workers, such as probation practitioners, face an overwhelming burden of administration
  3. Data about people under supervision is often missing or incomplete, especially across courts, prison and probation
  4. People under supervision feel their sentence is being ‘done to them’, rather than feeling part of the sentence, which complicates rates of reoffending
So what’s to be done?
  1. Existing software can be rebuilt into ‘micro-services’, which are flexible and can change quickly in light of user feedback and policy change
  2. Probation practitioners can use simpler digital tools so they can focus more on the individual and their needs, rather than the administration of the case
  3. Data will be better collected within the micro-services, connected around an individual’s journey and available in real-time. Decisions will be augmented using data science and machine learning
  4. People will be given a role in their sentence using digital technology, which will improve rehabilitation outcomes and give them a better understanding of their position within the sentence
The Use of Day 1

Stanley explained that Day 1 is shorthand, a term denoting when the National Probation Service will be unified again. This has required the rolling out of countless technical assets and the preparation of new services to be used. This unification has provided probation professionals in the sector with a springboard to improve and organise processes. 

 Day 1, National Probation Service

The above diagram shows how sentences will be structured across three set periods; pre-sentence, sentence management and sentence completion. In turn, these will be supported by assessments regarding risk and user needs, the delivery of interventions and the underlying data and infrastructure.

This is all part of the wider structural changes that will be coming, ones that Mark delved into. 

Managing Supervision in The Community

Towards the end of the webinar, Mark demonstrated the differences between using the existing services (Delius) to do casework compared to using the new service being built. 

Probation professionals have previously described they struggled with getting the complete picture of a person and their entire history on probation. For example, finding court documents in Delius can be a struggle. Practitioners spend too much time trying to find these vital documents. 

Similarly, risk information isn’t available in one place. Practitioners have to look separately in OASys to find it. The new service provides simple, clear and in-context information about the person on probation. 

There will be: 

  • An overview page providing key information at a glance, allowing practitioners to take in information easily
  • A dedicated activity log for appointment notes and communication
  • A schedule section summarising recent and future appointments

These are just some features of a system that will be constantly improved and “designed to continually respond to user needs.”

To see more of Mark’s webinar, click the video below and watch it in full.