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Howard League blog · 26 Jun 2018

Community Justice and the future of probation

Forgive me but this blog will be a little longer than usual. We have been thinking a lot about the future of probation at the Howard League, given the train-wreck that was the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms introduced by Chris Grayling.

The Justice Select Committee is the latest body to deliver a damning critique of what has happened to probation services in England and Wales.

Now the big question is what next?

What follows is a work in progress and represents our developing thoughts on what might be a new vision for probation – Community Justice. Please tell us what you think – either by commenting on this blog or emailing our office.


Community Justice means thinking about structure and service delivery.


The structure of Community Justice reform is based on three key principles:

  • A national strategic focus, with leadership and accountability
  • Local service delivery, with multi-agency involvement
  • Minimum restructuring and minimum cost

The probation system currently fails on the first two of these principles and is not fit for purpose:

  • There is no national strategic focus because while there is a National Probation Service (NPS), the NPS only works with a section of the probation population. Neither has the NPS the independence required to provide a national strategic focus to probation work, being part of a larger body, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS).
  • On local service delivery, the artificial split between the NPS and the privately-run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) has created a two-tier system with no obvious coterminosity with itself, let alone with other local structures such as police force areas or local authorities.

A new structure would address these problems, and seek to meet the third key principle, in the following ways:

  • Create a Community Justice Agency

A national strategic focus would be created by making Community Justice truly independent. Probation would be separated from HMPPS and a new Community Justice Agency would be created to provide strategic leadership, promote best practice and ensure a level of consistency in local service delivery.

Separating probation and prisons provides a clearer distinction between the two services, reinforcing their separate identities and professional expertise.

The new Community Justice Agency would have responsibility for workforce development. It could take on a similar role to the College of Policing and replace the Probation Institute, with a commitment to working with research-intensive universities to evaluate and innovate on interventions. The evidence base for Community Justice and a public health approach is stronger than ever, but it is not being effectively exploited.

The Community Justice Agency would be led by a figurehead with responsibility for providing a national voice on the issues. There would be a role for the Agency to set some clear national targets around service expectations that could be developed locally (see below). It would also be responsible for some specific services that could only be provided nationally, for example, contact with the victims of prisoners.

  • Create local Community Justice Partnerships

Local service delivery would involve ending the split between the NPS and the CRCs and forming new Community Justice Partnerships (CJPs). The CJPs would deliver probation services at a local level.

In order to minimise further disruption to the probation landscape, these CJPs could be structured around the current 21 community rehabilitation contract areas. Each CJP would be governed by a board of relevant criminal justice partners, and could be chaired by a local Police and Crime Commissioner or Mayor.

We recognise the existing 21 areas are not ideal but structuring around the TR reforms at least minimises disruption and cost. They would be the starting point for increasingly local arrangements and a move towards a more sensible coterminosity across local government and criminal justice partners.

Members of the CJP boards would include representatives from the police, local authorities, local voluntary groups and members of the community, sentencers, health boards and regional prison management. In cities such as London and Manchester, where the PCC role is subsumed into a larger mayoralty role, there would be scope for wider devolution of justice services and a whole system approach.

Service delivery

The Community Justice Agency would provide a national strategic framework to this local service delivery. As with the structural reforms, this delivery should be based around two key principles, enshrined where necessary in legislation and which the Community Justice Agency would promote.

Community Justice should be:

  • Targeted properly towards those who will most benefit

Just as the prison system is overcrowded, so is the probation system. There should be a national review of the extent of community orders and of post-custody supervision. The Crown Prosecution Service has a statutory duty to prosecute only in the public interest; thus the CJPs should have a similar duty to supervise only in the public interest. Such a duty would involve targeting and designing supervision so as to support desistance and reintegration.

At the same time, and helped by a tighter focus on the use of interventions, community orders would be reinforced and properly resourced to improve sentencer confidence. Post-custody supervision for those on short sentences should be removed in favour of voluntary local arrangements.

Community Justice would require a much more focused and responsive probation system than is currently possible under excessive and expansionary caseloads. A strategic focus on the application of criminal justice sanctions, at both the local and the national level, would make clear the relationship between sentencers and those delivering sentences.

  • Run properly in order to help people desist from crime

Successive reforms based around market competition have been pushed by various administrations since the formation of the National Offender Management Service. These reforms have all failed because probation services cannot sensibly fit within a market structure. Commissioning arrangements should be based on cooperation and joint purpose rather than competition. Efficiencies can be achieved through local organisations, including the voluntary sector, sharing mutual investment in services and co-commissioning to reflect local need.

Community Justice must be run on clear desistance principles. Service delivery would be run in a way that makes help accessible, encourages compliance and prioritises timely completion – over supervision for its own sake and models which promote incarceration by encouraging breach and recall. There would be some clear targets around service expectations set by the Community Justice Agency at a national level but these would be developed by CJPs to give more regard to local circumstances and to ensure professional discretion can be exercised where appropriate. Such targets would include measures to ensure proper regard be given to delivering and commissioning for particular groups, such as gender-specific and BAME-specific services.


  • Kay Beaumont says:

    Please lets return to forming relationships with offenders rather than reshaming them. let’s invest in restorative justice. Let’s return services to the public sector and not pay huge sums to these companies who have not done the task they were meant to do.

  • Laura Hoskins says:

    This seems to be describing the Scottish model for COmmunity Justice as per the Community Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 – a national body for community justice with a leadership role focused on innovation and improvement, local CJ multi-agency partnerships with a statutory duty to improve CJ outcomes for people, based on the local authority areas (we are fortunate that we have unitary authorities across the country).

  • Dean Rogers says:

    There is a lot of overlap with developing thinking in Napo and across the rehabilitation community. A consensus is possible, and essential, in contrast to the dogma driven TR disaster.
    The State control of the half the service has proved to be as difficult and dangerous for staff and clients as the outsourcing in communities to CRCs. Both are as bad as each other for different reasons – the reunification of a local service, locally accountable and locally engaged is critical and it is increasingly impossible to see how that can be sustained within a nationalised context. Just see how politicised SFO’s get now the Minister is directly accountable for all of them…insanity! So reunification of core probation services on a not for profit basis could be the keystone of the emerging consensus.
    Politically, this model will have to contend with OMiC and the HMPPS power grab to pull probation in to prop up the prison system. This will need to be explicitly challenged across the justice community, without saying that rehabilitation and prisons must be kept apart.
    How many local boards and who should run them – and who employs staff – will be complex and difficult and may need compromise on all sides. So far the appetite is for influence but limited responsibility from Mayors and CRCs – understandable given resourcing challenges, uncertainties about contract liabilities going forward, or the politicisation of the subject (e.g SFOs) but this will need close attention as we move forward as it will be key to the outcome.

  • A really well thought out proposal – I agree with Russell Webster however that the 21 areas makes no sense – a fit with PCC areas would be more effective. Fully agree with the idea of “Community Justice must be run on clear desistance principles” – there is strong academic evidence that restorative justice supports desistance however is not currently fully supported by CRC’s due to the claim they have other demands! CJA’s should be allowed to implement initiatives which are known to be effective.

  • Steve Jones says:

    Certainly a more well thought out proposal than TR ever was and one with much merit. We would agree with the previous comment however that the regional focus would be better aligned to the PCC areas rather than the existing CRC regions.
    There must also be a clear expectation for the voluntary sector to be both involved and included. TR claimed it would embrace this principle, promised much, courted VCS organisations to be named as partners and delivered almost nothing. As one CRC provider informed us in a moment of honesty – “the inclusion of multiple voluntary sector partners in tenders was simply ‘bid candy’.
    We would support the concept proposed as long as there could be some guarantee that it’s simply not yet another ‘board’.
    Community adult Justice could work superbly in this country. There remains, thankfully, a wealth of talented, passionate and hugely capable people at the coal face in CRCs that have continued to strive to provide support to offenders in a massively challenging environment. That resource needs to be empowered and supported in order to achieve.

    We’d love to see Community Justice Agencies delivered like the best Youth Offevding Teams used to be and in many cases still are- multi agency professionals operating under one roof, as a coordinated team all with the same vision and shared mission.

    ‘Competition’ will undoubtedly remain however and shouldn’t necessarily be feared. There are a number of quality providers of the specialisms that are required- substance misuse, accommodation, health, etc etc. That would welcome the opportunity to work within such teams (as many did for years and years under the former NPS) That competition however must be delivered in a fair, transparent and equal manner however. Commissioning need not be feared as long as the decision regarding the awarding of partnership contracts isn’t already decided before requesting bids. A personal plea to close- could someone (no idea whom that someone is) please streamline these processes to summary of delivery proposal, costing proposal, shortlist, presentation and interview? Current procurement systems involve producing documents significantly larger than a University dissertation.

  • Gideonsway says:

    Your Vision seems both coherent and sensible in my view. As someone who has suffered the NOMS, TR and Prison Service/Civil Service annexation of Probation I want to say “Yes, but they will never agree to losing control/power”. However, a return to more local control and which puts victims and offenders at the centre and no longer is process bound, but is person centred must be a positive change.

  • Jake Phillips says:

    Agree with Russell – all makes sense but why not just go for coterminosity, from the outset, with LAs or police forces. And also – what’s with the inclusion of only so-called ‘research intensive universities?’. Why preclude the inclusion of so-called ‘teaching’ universities in this process?

  • Napo Mcr says:

    The Probation institute is not the only Probation professional body. NAPO has been im existence for over 100 years and publishes The Probation Journal focusing on research and evidence based practice.

  • Joanne says:

    I would also add that you need to fire Michael Spurr and actually have someone competent in charge of the entire prison/probation system. Probation also needs to have an entire cultural rethink and stop doing stuff to people which only causes resentment and a one size fits all solution that will never really work. Instead it should aim for a person centred solution that actually involves the proper input of the person being supervised by probation in designing their rehabilitation programme. Work with the offender to ascertain what would stop that individual reoffending and then put that in place. It’s not rocket science. You also need to weed out probation staff who are in the job for the wrong reasons just as some prison officers are. Stop recalls unless a further crime is committed and the person actually charged as too many are recalled for things probation thinks they might do. Also probation officers need to be stopped from stopping people working/volunteering or going into education whilst on licence. Too many POs stop people on licence from doing any of this because it’s easier for the PO if the offender sits on benefits for their entire licence period as my idiot of a PO did. Oh and they also need proper training on data protection and abiding by the law themselves as far too many break the law and breach the legal rights of those they supervise on a daily basis. It’s extremely hypocritical to be held to account by probation and then watch the PO trample all over your legal rights and break the law and there is no comeback.

  • Makes a lot of sense apart from 21 areas. I can see the rationale but hard to have local leadership when CRCs area doesn’t fit with PCC or CJ board boundaries.
    The problem is one we all face. It’s relatively easy to design a good probation model starting from scratch, designing one from the mess of TR is much trickier.

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