Third sector organisations not playing expected central role in reformed probation services, says Chief Inspector

Probation reforms have failed to deliver the aim of ensuring that voluntary and third sector organisations play a central role in providing specialist support to offenders, according to Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation.

A new report presents a “bleak and exasperating” picture. Where the third sector is involved, the inspection found the quality of work reasonable overall, but the sector is “less involved than ever in probation services”, despite the eagerness of many dedicated people to work with offenders.

Government contractual arrangements for the involvement of third sector organisations in probation have been burdensome, disproportionate and “off-putting for all,” inspectors found. Some small, local organisations which worked with pre-reform probation trusts have lost the work.

Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) reforms in 2014 created 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) to supervise medium and low-risk offenders, the bulk of more than 260,000 people supervised in the community in England and Wales. The HMI Probation report notes that Ministry of Justice statements at the time of reform “gave the impression that there would be a wide array of organisations involved in the delivery of probation services.”

However, in the thematic inspection – Probation Supply Chains – inspectors noted that CRC operating contracts “do not require CRCs to commission specialist services from the third sector or from others, even in those cases where CRCs expressed in bids their intentions to do that. Instead, they contain varied and somewhat vague statements of intent about CRCs developing their supply chains. CRCs who originally expected to use third-sector organisations have told us that they had hoped to have more comprehensive supply chains in place by now, almost four years on.”

Dame Glenys said: “It seems that the third sector is less involved than ever in probation services, despite its best efforts; yet, many under probation supervision need the sector’s specialist help, to turn their lives around.”

It was envisaged that probation “supply chains” would deliver services including help with finding accommodation and training and education. Inspectors reached key conclusions:


  • The National Probation Service (NPS), responsible for high-risk offenders, “is not buying services from CRCs to anywhere near the extent expected” under Transforming Rehabilitation – for reasons including objecting to the price and doubting the quality.


  • All CRC owners inspected were concerned about the financial instability and viability of their own contracts with the MoJ. “Their own lack of stability was driving their relationship” with principal and smaller sub-contractors in the third sector and most were looking for further efficiencies and cutbacks. Supply chains delivering services within the community were “generally small scale, and non-existent in some local areas.” A “noticeable proportion” of pre-2014 contracts with third sector organisations had been discontinued.


  • The Ministry of Justice’s template contract for CRCs – ‘Industry Standard Partnering Agreements’ (ISPA) –  was “burdensome, and disproportionate to the value of most” of the third sector services being contracted.


On a more positive note, while inspectors found few unusual, niche or innovative services, they commended a ‘restorative justice’ initiative in Thames Valley. And two CRCs in areas with devolved political powers (Wales and Greater Manchester) had developed models in which the CRCs and NPS “were both contributing knowledge, expertise and resources to influence strategically the provision of local services.”


Overall, however, Dame Glenys said:

“It is an exasperating situation. Third-sector providers remain eager to work in the sector, and we found the quality of their work reasonable overall. Many are providing a more expansive service to individuals than they are paid for. Supply chains are thin, however, and set to get thinner still, as CRCs continue to review and slim down provision. There is no open book policy: we cannot be certain to what extent financial pressures justify a paucity of provision, but it seems very likely that they are largely responsible. As things stand, the future looks bleak for some organisations, and particularly for those individuals who could benefit so much from the services they can provide.”


  • Ends –


Notes to editors

  1. The report is published on 17 April 2018 at
  2. In June 2014, 35 self-governing probation trusts were replaced by a new public sector National Probation Service (NPS), under HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) owned by eight organisations,
  3. There were some 268,000 offenders on probation supervision at the end of March 2017.
  4. The section entitled Probation supply chains explained on pages 8 – 10 of the report sets out the background and terminology of the complex picture of sub-contracted, third sector involvement in probation services.
  5. Appendix 2 of the report sets out the scope, methodology and locations of the inspection visits in November and December 2017.
  6. Please contact John Steele, Chief Communications Officer, on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452, or at (E-mail address), for more information.