Written evidence from Changing Lives

1                   INTRODUCTION

1.1            Changing Lives welcomes this inquiry into the future of the Probation Service. We are a national charity, helping over 14,000 people change their lives for the better each year. We have around 100 projects across the North and the Midlands, supporting people in their most challenging of circumstances, including homelessness, addictions, sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, contact with the criminal justice system, long-term unemployment and more.

1.2            We support people involved in the criminal justice system to move past previous offending and build a stronger future for themselves and their families. We are currently commissioned to deliver services by the Ministry of Justice, HMPPS, CRCs, as well as by Police and Crime Commissioners. Our offer includes community supervision for four CRC areas, custody support in four women’s prisons, including Enhanced Through The Gate services, as well as schemes to divert women from the criminal justice system altogether. We currently hold three CFO contracts in the North East Yorkshire & Humber and the East Midlands, which operate within both custody and community.

1.3            Our key messages:

2                   The decision to end the competition for Probation Delivery Partners, and bring services back into NPS delivery

2.1            We are pleased that the competition for Probation Delivery Partners has been brought to an end. This will enable a greater focus on reducing fragmentation so people in the criminal justice system experience a seamless journey towards desistance.

2.2            A national probation service with a very clear remit is likely to bring about the most integrated and coordinated experience for people in the criminal justice system.  One of our findings from listening to people in the criminal justice system during the Covid-19 pandemic is that they have benefited from a more holistic focus on their wellbeing, rather than an expectation they should engage with multiple agencies (including, for example, probation, drug and alcohol treatment, housing services, Jobcentre Plus and social services).

3                   The new model of probation

3.1            We are supportive of the new model of probation as it is likely to be a more integrated system for people in the criminal justice system. Fragmentation of the service in recent years has created unnecessary barriers to supporting people – we know that people’s lives and experiences are unique, and that the support they need might vary over time. Despite, this, innovation has been incredibly difficult due to the nature of contracts and restrictions on available interventions based on arbitrary tiers of risk. We hope that over time there will be a culture shift where energy is refocused on principles of desistance, recovery, rehabilitation and relationships rather than seeking simply to meet contractual requirements. Evidence shows this tends to have a detrimental impact on the experiences of people in the criminal justice system.

3.2            We strongly welcome the proposal to introduce a regional director for probation, ensuring that there is more localised delivery of justice services.  This is because many of the levers of crime fall outside of the criminal justice system. In recent years it has been rare to see the probation service (either NPS or CRCs) involved in any multi-agency partnerships other than those directly relating to the management of risk and it has become very segregated compared to most other public services.  A stronger regional focus has potential to bring probation back into the heart of our communities and make it more responsive to local need, alongside other public, private and voluntary sector organisations.  To support this, we hope that commissioning will take place at the regional level rather than through national procurement where there is no local knowledge or understanding.

3.3            We are also pleased that there is an expressed commitment within the Dynamic Framework to include the voluntary and community sector in the rehabilitation of people in the criminal justice system, and that a distinction is made between statutory supervision and rehabilitative services.  It is widely understood that the contribution of voluntary organisations makes a significant impact in bringing about change and desistance. However, we are concerned that the Dynamic Framework commissioning process favours large charities and private sector organisations, as it is extremely complex for small organisations to navigate the tendering process (see section 7).

4                   Confidence in community sentence options

4.1            It is well documented that our courts and to some extent the wider public have lost confidence in the ability of the probation service to deliver effective community sentences.  This is detrimental to our criminal justice system as a whole.  We know that instead sentencers tend to impose repeated short custodial sentences – the volatility this inflicts on people’s lives is not commensurate with the severity of their offending and is ineffective in reducing reoffending.  We believe there is a long way to go to genuinely increase confidence in community sentence options, but the new model is a positive and welcome step to start this journey.

5                   Integration between prisons and probation

5.1            Integration between prisons and probation is absolutely vital for the successful resettlement and rehabilitation of people leaving prison.  We believe that the new model will be more effective in achieving this by reducing fragmentation across services.

5.2            There is already a strong indication that the Enhanced Through The Gate model has made a very positive impact for people leaving prison. It is vital that sufficient resource is allocated to this important piece of work as part of ongoing efforts to promote integration across the criminal justice system.

5.3            Timing is crucial to support integration, as often there is a gap between identifying a need while a person is in prison and making a referral to ensure appropriate provision is in place on their release. This may make people vulnerable to harm and reoffending when they leave prison.

5.4            There is an opportunity to learn from increased use of digital technology during Covid-19, which has been a key success in the response of public services to the pandemic. At Changing Lives, we now offer virtual group therapy sessions, which has enabled us to continue delivering our services, and actually increased engagement in some instances. We hear from the people we support in prisons that increased digital access has enabled them to connect with family members who they have not been able to make contact with in years, which has been immensely positive for their wellbeing. We would like to see greater digital innovation in custody and the community for education, welfare support, and recovery.

5.5            We would also like to see prison governors more embedded in communities, so the responsibility of the rehabilitation that goes on in prison does not stop at point of release.  We believe that a more joined up system would make the most significant impact on reducing reoffending.

6                   Maintaining innovation and best practice

6.1            In moving to the new model, it is vital that the probation service is able to learn from and retain the elements of good practice that have emerged from CRCs in responding to local need. There is a risk that a ‘one size fits all’ system will be counterproductive to rehabilitation.

6.2            We are also mindful that the pace and scale of change in recent years has had a significant impact on the morale of staff working across the criminal justice system. We would like to see a more positive culture emerge, characterised by a commitment to learning and innovation.

6.3            We believe there is much to learn from the voluntary sector in this respect, as our strength is in our connection with communities and our ability to adapt to rapidly emerging needs. At the moment, however, there is often a power imbalance, with voluntary sector organisations not seen as equal partners working towards the same goal.

7                   Small and specialist voluntary and third sector organisations

7.1            We do not believe that the new model offers a level playing field for small and specialist voluntary sector organisations. This is hugely disappointing as the stated aim of the Dynamic Framework was to facilitate rather than exclude voluntary sector involvement. We believe that the Ministry of Justice has a responsibility to recognise the importance of a diverse and thriving voluntary sector as central in supporting the rehabilitation of people in the criminal justice system. 

7.2            To ensure a more level playing field, we believe it would have been more effective to introduce regional grant funding and to include co-commissioning with other relevant bodies such as local authorities and police and crime commissioners.

7.3            At present, the commissioning process for the Dynamic Framework disadvantages smaller charities who do have dedicated business development resources, may be unable to meet stringent IT requirements, cannot afford to pick up TUPE and redundancy liabilities, and are unable to plan ahead given the size and timing of call-offs are unknown.

7.4            This makes it all but impossible for small providers to play a role.  They are dependent on the ethical behaviour of larger charities and primes to include them in their bids, and many will not do this – this is already being seen as partnerships are beginning to develop. 

7.5            We are deeply concerned that the lessons of Transform Rehabilitation have not been learned; that primes will use small charities to strengthen their bids, but fail to support them in any meaningful way. We would like to see commissioners considering this carefully as part of the bidding process.

8                   What impact has Covid-19 had on this, if any?

8.1            The voluntary sector has been deeply affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, especially smaller, specialist charities as many do not have the capacity to engage with the commissioning process of the Dynamic Framework given its complexity and stringent requirements.  The Ministry of Justice has a stated commitment to equality and diversity; and the Female Offender Strategy is very clear about the benefits of women-centred services.  It is vital that this is acknowledged to ensure that women’s organisations are not excluded from the Dynamic Framework during this especially challenging time.

9                   What impact is the transition having on the voluntary/third sector organisations already providing probation services?

9.1            While the transition period has been well managed by CRCs, we are concerned that the voluntary sector will be challenged by constantly having to adapt to changes as they occur. For example, this includes a lack of certainty about how long contracts will roll on for, and what any handover between services will look like – potentially involving caseloads of hundreds. These contracts represent a significant proportion of income for smaller organisations, and their ability to plan ahead will have a direct impact on their financial sustainability.

10             Learning from Covid-19

10.1        At Changing Lives, we have conducted large-scale listening exercises with our staff and the people we support to understand their experiences of Covid-19. People in the criminal justice system tell us that they have developed a completely different relationship with their supervising officers during the pandemic; with a much greater focus on wellbeing, working more intensively and building relationships. They also tell us that they have enjoyed different ways of engaging with professionals, rather than having to attend probation offices which can be hugely stressful and where they may encounter people they don’t want to see.

13.2              Women in the criminal justice system particularly tell us that they felt their lives were much improved during lockdown because they were not expected to ‘jump through hoops’.  Some women we work with have an extraordinary number of appointments each week, including probation, social services, parenting programmes, drug and/or alcohol treatment, benefits and job search. There is an assumption this is having a positive impact, but there is not the evidence to support this. Women on release from prison have said that being provided with phones with numbers they will need to access public services has made the biggest change they could have imagined.  This is a relatively easy way and cost effective way to help people on release. We would urge the probation service to draw on learning from this period to better support people in future.

11             Recommendations

11.1        We would like to see:



September 2020