The Transforming Rehabilitation model for probation service is irredeemably flawed

The current model for the delivery of probation services in England and Wales is irredeemably flawed, and a major rethink is needed to create a system that is fit for the future, according to the Chief Inspector of Probation.

In her final Annual Report, Dame Glenys Stacey depicts a sector under exceptional strain:

  • both the public-sector National Probation Service (NPS) and privately-owned Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) are failing to meet some of their performance targets. The NPS is performing better overall, whereas eight out of ten CRCs inspected this year received the lowest possible rating – ‘Inadequate’ – for the implementation and delivery of probation supervision. In too many cases, there is not enough purposeful activity.
  • the probation profession has been diminished. There is a national shortage of qualified probation professionals, and too much reliance on unqualified or agency staff.
  • in the day-to-day work of probation professionals, there has been a drift away from practice informed by evidence. The critical relationship between the individual and the probation worker is not sufficiently protected in the current probation model.

Dame Glenys said: “More than a quarter of a million people are under probation supervision each year. If probation services are delivered well, there would be less reoffending, fewer people living on the streets, and fewer confused and lonely children, with a smaller number taken into care. Men, women and children currently afraid of assault could lead happier, safer lives. These things matter to us all.

“I have seen first-hand the life-changing potential of probation at its best – but probation is not working as it should. It is not delivering well enough for some of the most troubled and sometimes troublesome people in society, when they and the wider public deserve better.

“Probation must be delivered locally, yet the service is now split at a local level. Despite capable leaders, there has been a deplorable diminution of the probation profession and a widespread move away from practice informed by evidence. This is largely due to the impact of commerce, and contracts that treat probation as a transactional business. Professional ethics can buckle under such pressures, and the evidence we have is that this has happened to some extent.”

Dame Glenys is clear that the intention to terminate CRC contracts early and move to better-funded and better-structured contracts will improve matters, it will not be enough.

Dame Glenys said: “Probation is a complex social service, with professional judgement at its heart. The future model for probation services needs to ensure more consistent and effective supervision, to reduce reoffending as far as possible and to keep the public safe.

“Any new probation model must focus on quality. In my view, effective probation work is most likely when good leaders are free to manage, motivate and develop professional staff, who are in turn able to build challenging but supportive relationships with offenders. Specialist and local services are also crucial to help offenders turn their lives around.”

Dame Glenys calls for:

  • probation services to be evidence based. Work to reduce reoffending should draw on research and evidence, and new initiatives should be evaluated and the results added to the evidence base.
  • probation services that meet both the needs of victims and the individuals under supervision. Probation work should be of the right quality, whoever is providing it.
  • an integrated and professional service. The probation service should have enough qualified professionals with access to the right facilities, services and information (and, where necessary, protections) to enable them to do their jobs well.
  • a probation service able to command the confidence of the judiciary, victims, the professional staff employed and the wider public.

Dame Glenys argues that if the service is designed and delivered in line with these principles, and funded sufficiently, then it is most likely to deliver high-quality probation services that make a real difference to individuals under probation supervision and to wider society, and deliver the policy ambitions of any government, over time. The report includes a full evaluation of the probation service using these principles.

Dame Glenys concludes that national, inter-departmental strategies are needed to provide for accommodation and timely benefits payments. Accredited programmes and essential treatment orders should be available locally and ordered whenever appropriate by the court. A good range of rehabilitative community sentence requirements should be available to the court as well, alongside or instead of Rehabilitation Activity Requirements. Intensive inter-agency support should be piloted for the most prolific offenders currently sentenced to short terms of imprisonment.

In her view, a purposeful programme of work is now needed to rebuild the probation profession. Probation professionals should be given the status, recognition and protection of an independent professional body, and she advocates a code of ethics for the profession. In her view, a national workforce strategy is needed, to provide good training and development for all staff and to make sure of the fair distribution of probation professionals across the service.

Dame Glenys argues that national strategies are needed to provide common IT systems with the right functionality, and to make sure that essential and specialist services for those under probation supervision are available when needed locally. She also proposes a rethink about probation premises: only 15 per cent are jointly occupied by the NPS and CRCs. In her view, the existence of two separate estate footprints is both inefficient and ineffective.

Dame Glenys said: “These things will be difficult if not impossible, alongside the contractual provision of probation services. Instead, services of the right quality are most likely if probation leaders are able to lead, motivate, engage and develop a sufficient number of probation professionals who in turn can exercise their professional judgement in each case and tailor supervision in each case, with access to a range of specialist services to meet needs in each case. Leaders can then be held fully to account for delivery, for the service’s adherence to the evidence base and for value for money.

“Experience has shown that it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible to reduce the probation service to a set of contractual measures. I urge the government to consider carefully the future model for probation services, and hope this report will be of help.”


Notes to editors

  • The report is available at on 28 March 2019.
  • HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspectorate of youth offending and probation services in England and Wales.
  • Latest available figures show 258,157 people were under probation supervision at the end of September 2018. Community Rehabilitation Companies supervised 151,788 low and medium-risk offenders and the National Probation Service supervised 106,369 higher-risk offenders.
  • Prior to 2014, 35 self-governing probation trusts delivered probation services across England and Wales. The government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme replaced these trusts with a new public-sector National Probation Service (NPS) and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies – these are owned by eight organisations, each different in constitution and outlook.
  • This report is based on aggregated data from HMI Probation’s inspection of four NPS Divisions and 15 CRCs in 2018/2019. Individual inspection reports are available on the website.
  • Accredited programmes support offenders to address their thinking, attitudes and behaviours. They are designed based on the best available evidence and are evaluated. Programmes are accredited by a panel of independent, international experts.
  • Dame Glenys Stacey is due to stand down as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation at the end of her tenure, at the end of May.
  • For media enquiries, please contact Head of Communications, Catherine Chan on 07889 405930 or (E-mail address)