Probation services in court much improved, says Chief Inspector

Probation services in court have improved noticeably over the past year and consistently good advice was being given to sentencers by probation staff, said Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation. Today she published a report, The Work of Probation Services in Courts. 

Probation services have for many years provided advice and information to courts to help judges and magistrates decide on the right sentence. Under the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme, probation services changed. In June 2014, they were divided into a new public sector National Probation Service (NPS) and 21 new privately owned Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). The NPS assumed responsibility for all advice and information provided to courts. Alongside Transforming Rehabilitation, the Ministry of Justice is modernising the criminal justice system. Historically, courts adjourned for three weeks or more so that pre-sentence advice could be assembled. New expectations are that most advice to court can be given on the day in cases where a defendant pleads guilty, to allow for an immediate sentence decision. In response, the NPS implemented nationwide arrangements for a speedier approach.

Inspectors found strong arrangements between the NPS and the courts, though working arrangements with CRCs were less well developed. Pre-sentence oral reports delivered on the day were well regarded by sentencers. Inspectors found satisfactory (or better) arrangements to obtain information regarding child protection and domestic abuse. Worryingly, accredited programmes to prevent reoffending were recommended by the NPS relatively infrequently, despite clear evidence to support their use. Short written reports, were not always sufficiently thorough in their assessments of the risks an individual could pose.

NPS enforcement work was of a high quality, but many sentencers expressed concern about cases where CRCs allowed an individual too many absences before breaching them and taking them back before the court. NPS hardware and software were dated, making staff less efficient, but inspectors did see the effective use of video link in some courts.

Key recommendations made by inspectors include the NPS providing sentencers with a sufficient assessment of the Risk of Serious Harm in all cases, training court staff to consider accredited programmes appropriately and establishing strategies with CRCs to improve confidence in the delivery of community sentences. CRCs should provide up to date information to the NPS and courts on what courses, work and activities they can deliver through rehabilitation activity requirements and accredited programmes.

Dame Glenys Stacey said:

“I am glad to report that probation services in courts have got much better over the past year. Arrangements between the National Probation Service (NPS), Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and courts have bedded down and probation providers now need to give judges and magistrates more confidence in how the community sentences they order are actually delivered.

“The NPS should be commended for getting good systems in place to provide information the court needs about a defendant’s circumstances from local authorities and the police quickly. Competent and motivated staff are in court daily, enabling sentences to be passed swiftly and safely. That said, the NPS needs to improve some of its risk assessments. What is more, it is baffling that so few reports call for someone to complete an accredited programme when evidence shows that they’re effective, and fewer still are actually ordered by the courts. No-one wishes to see high quality services disappear by simple neglect.”

– ENDS –


Notes to editors:

  1. The report is available at from 23 June 2017.
  2. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation is an independent inspectorate, sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, and reporting directly to the Secretary of State on the effectiveness of work with individual adults, children and young people who offend, aimed at reducing reoffending and protecting the public.
  3. The NPS and CRCs came into existence on 1 June 2014 as part of the Ministry of Justice’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme. This was the first step in a series of changes designed to open up the probation market to new providers, reduce reoffending rates and allow the NPS to focus on managing high risk of harm offenders, those eligible under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements and foreign national offenders subject to deportation. All court work is delivered by the NPS. CRCs are not involved in preparing reports for court. They manage cases presenting low and medium risk of serious harm and deliver interventions on low, medium and some high risk cases.
  4. HM Inspectorate of Probation previously reported on court arrangements and reporting in Transforming Rehabilitation 5, published in May 2016, which can be found here.

For further information please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Probation press office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452.