Written evidence from Julia Mulligan, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire
This evidence briefing for the Justice Committee’s Call for Evidence on the Future of the Probation Service is submitted on behalf of Julia Mulligan, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire.
This was the right decision. COVID-19 made this decision necessary, but there were already concerns about delivering a core part of probation function through a centrally commissioned process. Bringing this back in-house allows much greater flexibility and NPS ownership, and if the options remains for elements such as unpaid work to be commissioned, it is better that this is a regional decision. This will allow this part of probation work to be responsive to local needs and facilitates greater involvement of other local partners such as Police and Crime Commissioners.
Several elements of the new model are welcomed as they will facilitate partnership work between probation and Police and Crime Commissioners. Bringing offender management under one roof not only simplifies the process for offenders and probation staff, but also means that PCCs and other agencies only have to engage with one probation partner. Having smaller Probation Delivery Areas will also be beneficial as probation can be more responsive to local needs. The added expectation to work more closely with PCCs and other partners is very much welcomed, but the model still does not set out how these partnerships are expected to be managed and it is important that this goes beyond mere words, as we saw with the old model.
Enhancing data recording and sharing is also welcome. The lack of available data from probation services, particularly NPS, has made local problem analyses and performance management within Local Criminal Justice Partnerships difficult. Data quality must be improved, but the commitment to data sharing must be emphasised. There has been no data consistently shared around local performance since CRCs were created, and where it has been shared has been down to willingness within individual CRCs who have a greater flexibility around data sharing than NPS. With everything coming back in-house, data sharing must increase rather than decrease, to support PCCs and LCJPs to drive service impact locally and to challenge and address lack of progress or gaps in service.
Some elements of the new model would be expected to improve confidence in community sentences, but work will still need to be done to undo the damage caused by the previous model. Having probation staff providing Pre-Sentence Reports who represent all offender management will certainly be beneficial as we would expect them to have a full understanding of the available community provision which can then be presented to the judiciary. This will only have an impact on sentencing confidence is the right community interventions are appropriately funded.
There is likely to still be caution initially as the impact of the new model on reoffending is assessed. Progress made with individuals must be communicated to the judiciary swiftly and effectively – both successful outcomes and swift responses when they fail.
Integration is very much welcomed. For the majority of the time that CRCs operated, ‘through-the-gate’ was not genuinely through the gate, but rather up to the point of release and not beyond. This created a massive disconnect between interventions and resettlement support provided in prison and those provided in the community. North Yorkshire has particularly seen the negative effects of this as, with the exception of a very small number of women released from HMP Askham Grange, the vast majority of local residents are released from prisons outside of the county. This means that their resettlement has been coordinated by CRC staff who may not know the local area and are not effectively linked in with local probation teams. Having greater links to probation staff from the local area prior to release should help alleviate this problem. It is important that resettlement data is robust, carefully monitored and shared with partners who may be able to facilitate positive outcomes.
From an external perspective, little to no innovation has actually been seen during the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, in part due to the funding model leaving less money for innovation than originally anticipated. Where there has been innovation with evidence that it impacts on reoffending and resettlement outcomes, this should ideally be continued in-house or commissioned through the dynamic framework, but it is also important that funding is provided for further innovation, including co-commissioning opportunities. This is something that partners have been told will be happening, but details are yet to be seen.
Having lots split by criminogenic pathways should facilitate opportunities for smaller and specialist providers, but it is disappointing that the decision was made for most ‘Day One’ services to be commissioned on a regional basis and with limited influence from either the Regional Probation Director or local partners. Since these contracts are expected to be relatively long – which will certainly benefit providers – it is unclear how much money will be left to commission services provided by small and specialist organisations, particularly those who do not operate on a regional footprint. There must be a sufficient level of funding available for commissioning on a local level, with input obtained from partners such as PCCs who may have greater awareness of local provision. Minimum expectations for involvement with local partners (LCJPs, smaller organisations etc.) should be set out within service specifications for regional contracts, particularly for larger organisations.
It is helpful to have the flexibility to commission on a regional or a local level, but concerns remain that the latter will not be prioritised. There may be some limitations to commissioning on a local level using a general national framework specification and there must be appropriate flexibility within mini-competitions/call-off contracts in order to meet local needs. North Yorkshire is a large, predominantly rural area meaning that service delivery per head is more expensive, as staff spend more time travelling in order to engage with service users. Nationally, this has not always been taken into account for funding formulae and commissioning decisions. For example, the Liaison and Diversion Service funding was calculated based on volume demand but did not take into account the geography of North Yorkshire and the difficulties in limited staffing covering multiple custody suites and courts spread over a large area. The same mistakes must not be made when making commissioning decisions on a regional or a local level.
The potential for long contract lengths has positives and negatives. Consistency of good quality provision is welcome, and it provides stability for providers that may allow for greater innovation, but there is also a risk that it will be difficult to challenge poor provision. The ability to do this and the process to be followed to achieve this must be swift. There are also concerns over the length of Day One service contracts, which so far have not had appropriate consultation or opportunities for co-commissioning with other local commissioners. If it will take up to 7 years before PCCs or other commissioners have the opportunity to genuinely influence commissioning of services, or jointly commission a provider, this will be a great disappointment.
From an external partner’s perspective, it is very unclear how much progress has been made. There was an expectation that by this point partners such as PCCs would be engaged to discuss commissioning and co-commissioning opportunities, but so far little has happened. The Yorkshire and Humber Regional Rehabilitation Group, which was created for this purpose, has begun to develop a commissioning framework but this work has been very slow-moving due to limited input from NPS themselves around commissioning intentions and plans to include partners.
From an external perspective, we are hearing that the transition is creating a considerable level of uncertainty amongst voluntary/third sector organisations. More clarity is needed on a local level.
We have also heard locally that several charities, both criminal justice and otherwise, have lost volunteers to COVID-19-related volunteering. Whilst manageable for some whilst operations were suspended during the lockdown, there are concerns that some voluntary/third sector agencies will struggle to recruit and maintain volunteers.
Data collection and sharing requirements should be in place by the time the service goes live. This includes setting and sharing baselines, output and outcome requirements and monitoring how and with whom local data will be shared. Decisions must also be made around how these requirements will be monitored on a local level i.e. via LCJPs. This will not only support LCJP’s understanding of the local rehabilitation and resettlement picture, but will also allow LCJPs and other services to support probation and providers to achieve the best possible outcomes.
The creation of CRCs set this back, and bringing things back under NPS is a step in the right direction, but does not guarantee a change in perception.
The backlog that has built up in the courts will have resulted in reduced numbers being given community sentences to be supervised by the probation service. For those who do eventually enter the probation caseload, it may have been a long time since the original offence, meaning the principle of swift justice has been lost. This may impact the ability of probation to effectively address offending behaviour. Work is ongoing to reduce this backlog but so far has had limited impact.
Offenders released from prison under probation supervision will have received limited support to address their behaviour whilst in custody, and are likely to have struggled with mental health issues and lack of contact with family due to the COVID-19 restrictions. This is expected to have an impact on probation as different work will need to be done with these individuals compared to previous prison releases to catch up on the missed opportunities whilst in custody.
Innovations necessitated by COVID-19 must be assessed and, where appropriate, maintained. For example, having the option of some interventions being delivered online may prove to be effective for some individuals and more research is needed to understand the impact on both risk management and reoffending. A blended model of remote and face-to-face working may be beneficial going forward.
This period has shown that the methods of delivering offender services could be more varied than previously thought, with opportunities for a mix of remote and face-to-face working in the future. It is important that things to do not return to the way they were automatically, but that new methods are appropriately assessed for risk and impact on reoffending.
Existing partnership structures must be effectively utilised to progress the Probation Reform Programme. The North Yorkshire Local Criminal Justice Partnership has the right people round the table to have productive partnership discussions but can only be effective if provided with information and consulted on decisions rather than simply informed after the fact. Our aim is to create a more cohesive criminal justice system that supports those who offend or are at risk of offending from the point of early intervention all the way through to courts and prison release. Probation services are a key part of that, but they are just one part of a wider structure. If decisions are made in isolation without sufficient partner involvement, it will not be possible to develop an efficient and effective system that prevents offending in the first place and successfully rehabilitates those who do offend.
Similarly, regional partnerships must also be utilised. The Yorkshire and Humber Regional Rehabilitation Partnership (YatH RRP) was established early on and has already identified priority work streams, including employment and accommodation. We have been successful in engaging NHS England, Public Health England and the DWP, giving great potential for future partnership working and co-commissioning. However again the work of the partnership has been hampered by a lack of information or consultation. For example, the Ministry of Justice initially consulted PCCs about existing services and possible co-commissioning intent for Day One services but there has been no follow-up since then. In the time that has passed, new commissioning plans will have been made that will affect commissioning of services for Day One and beyond, therefore we would have expected ongoing conversations to ensure that HMPPS have an accurate and up-to-date picture when making commissioning decisions that will affect our area.
The impact of COVID-19 must also be taken into account when setting delivery outcomes for commissioned services. Flexibility may be required if social distancing measures are still in place in June 2021, and the knock-on effect on things like employment and housing options, for example, must be understood and taken into account. Outcomes must consider what is achievable given the current circumstances, and must take into account stages on an individual’s journey rather than simply measuring the end goal – for example, services providing employability support may measure outcomes around skill development rather than simply reporting back on the number of jobs obtained.