Written evidence from Professor Jonathan Shepherd CBE

Crime and Security Research Institute, Cardiff University


  1. Introduction

During my work as a professor of surgery at Cardiff University and the University Hospital of Wales, I initiated and then for 20 years chaired Cardiff’s multiagency Violence Prevention Board – the prototype Violence Reduction Unit. In this capacity and based on my report Professionalising the Probation Service for the Howard league for Penal Reform, I initiated the establishment in 2014 of the new professional body for probation professionals, the Probation Institute. I hosted the launch of the Institute by the then president of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, at the Royal College of Surgeons which is my own professional home. As the independent member of the What Works Council at the Cabinet Office I wrote a report which concluded that professional bodies, such as the Probation Institute, are a powerful influence on the extent to which new effective interventions are implemented in public services and interventions which have been found not to be effective are discarded. My reason for submitting this evidence is that this perspective and expertise allows me to provide an answer to:

  1. Question 7 How will the National Probation Service ensure that it maintains the innovation and best practice achieved during the Transforming Rehabilitation Reforms?

I do not have the knowledge necessary to answer this question in the context of the Transformation Rehabilitation Reforms in detail, but I am able to provide an answer in the context of rehabilitation innovation and best practice more generally.

  1. Answer

3.1 The research foundations of probation are very weak in comparison with other public services – education and policing for example. This is especially the case with rigorous evaluation of interventions; properly conducted trials of probation interventions are rare. Rehabilitation is a Cinderella service in this respect. Probation research centres in research-intensive universities, where there is the expertise to evaluate interventions with the rigour now commonplace in health and education, are needed. Such progress in policing has been marked in the last decade and a half with the establishment of vibrant police research centres in research-intensive universities in every UK country. The steady flow of reliable new evidence of what works and what does not which service-specific research centres produce is the life blood of every public service. But this is lacking in probation. Innovation is important of course, but most innovations are found wanting when they are rigorously tested. Without rigorous testing, interventions which are not effective or even harmful can be retained.

3.2 Transforming Rehabilitation was remarkable in its fragmentation effect not just on services but also on relationships between innovators, evaluators and trainers, and relationships between universities, service providers and the Probation Institute – the probation professional body.

At present, unlike all the other major public services, the justice system of which probation is an important part, has no What Works Centre. The What Works Centres, exemplified by NICE which guides the NHS and the Education Endowment Foundation which guides primary and secondary education, synthesise evidence and translates this into guidance. A What Works Centre for the justice system should be developed and incorporated into the UK’s What Works Network. In the same way that the What Works centre for Crime Reduction is embedded in the College of Policing, this new Centre could be embedded in the Probation Institute (see below).

3.3 Professional bodies set standards in and for their various professions. They have found and sustain ways to advance standards based on reliable evidence. Examples include the medical Royal Colleges, the Chartered College of Teaching, and the College of Policing which incorporates the What Works Centre for Crime Reduction. These national institutions are powerful influences on decision making by over a million public sector professionals. They mobilise evidence through continuously honed assessments which lead to career advancing institutional membership and fellowship, exemplified by the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) and the Fellowship of the Chartered College of teaching (FCCT). Without demonstrating knowledge of relevant evidence and the skills to apply it in practice, success is unlikely. Professional bodies also do this through publication of evidence-based policy statements and through institutional support of career-long professional development. Their peer-reviewed journals, profession leading education programmes and networks of advisors are further ways in which professional bodies promote evidence. These organisations, almost all self-funded, also provide powerful incentives to excel – prestigious prizes and medals, and eponymous honorary lectureships and professorships. The Probation Institute should be supported, and its influence and reach extended through a revitalised partnership with national government. This would do much to ensure that innovation and best practice is maintained and that rehabilitation standards recover and continue to advance. In 2017 DfE invested £5m seed funding in what is now the vibrant, motivating and now financially independent Chartered College of Teaching. The same level of investment in the Probation Institute has the potential to transform probation in the same way.

3.4 These reforms would strengthen probation by increasing innovation, evidence generation and evidence synthesis and by providing a mechanism for career long professional development and a sure means of ensuring that new effective interventions are rapidly absorbed into rehabilitation policy and practice. 


July 2020