Pace of change in probation services 'slower than anticipated', says report

The paper examines the voluntary sector's role in the provision of probation services under the government's Transforming Rehabilitation programme

Probation services
Probation services

The National Probation Service needs to engage better with charities delivering rehabilitation and settlement services and a lack of communication about future strategy between probation services and voluntary groups is damaging local relationships, according to a new report.

The report, called Change and Challenge: The voluntary sector’s role in transforming rehabilitation and published todayexamines how charities work within the government's Transforming Rehabilitation programme, which outsourced of responsibility for probation services for all low and medium-risk offenders to 21 community rehabilitation companies. 

The paper, which was produced by Clinks, which supports and represents charities working with offenders, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham, is based on fieldwork including a survey of 151 organisations between August and October 2015. 

Among the its key findings is that "changes to probation services are taking a long time to embed" and the "pace of change has still been much slower than many anticipated".

The report says this is curbing investment in the voluntary sector’s rehabilitation and resettlement services, meaning that these services are at greater risk of closure.

The report also criticises alleged poor communication between probation services and the voluntary sector. It suggests that charities’ relationships with the 21 community rehabilitation companies across England and Wales and the probation service is "negatively affected by a lack of communication about future strategy, service development and commissioning opportunities".

The report also says that many voluntary organisations report a mixture of confusion and uncertainty about what services are offered through CRCs and the probation service, with many charities unable to say how the transforming rehabilitation scheme has affected services.

It also says that only 30 per cent of organisations funded by CRCs to deliver supply chain services feels their level of funding allows them to deliver a high-quality service, explaining that "there is growing anxiety about the sustainability of services".

Other problems raised in the report include that voluntary sector involvement in supply chains is low, and that the charities involved are principally larger organisations, with very few small or medium-sized charities involved.

The report’s recommendations include providing total transparency of supply chain partners, helping the probation service to work directly with charities and to encourage the service and CRCs to publish their commissioning intentions on an annual basis.

The report also calls for significant improvements in communication and engagement with the voluntary sector, an annual strategy and action plan from the probation service and each CRC about how they can engage with small charities, close assessment of the quality of commissioned services and that the Ministry of Justice should support a co-produced review into charities’ role in rehabilitation and resettlement services.

These findings follow a report by the National Audit Office earlier this year that says that charities largely lost out to the private sector when bidding for probation service contracts.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "Major transitions in public services are always challenging but figures show the performance of the new probation system is continually improving. New providers, with the flexibility to innovate, are bringing skills from the public, private and voluntary sector which will be essential in tackling reoffending. In 19 of the 21 CRCs the voluntary sector is represented as a top table partner."

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