Probation unification is not enough, by itself, to put right the flaws of past reform 

All National Probation Service (NPS) divisions and the privately-run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) have now merged to become a new, unified public sector Probation Service.

The change affects more than 220,000 people on probation and 16,000 probation staff across England and Wales.

Probation services were reorganised in 2014 – called Transforming Rehabilitation – a model which HM Inspectorate of Probation found to be deeply flawed.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell reflects on what has been learned and what the future could hold: 

“The Government’s decision to bring probation back together – though welcome – will not be without its challenges. Challenges that should not be underestimated. There are no magic bullets here: structural change needs to be backed by sustained investment for there to be true improvement. Real transformation is a long-term commitment, and unification is just the beginning of that journey.”

A service feeling the squeeze

“The Transforming Rehabilitation model was fundamentally flawed. Many feared this from the start, and our inspections over six years only confirmed these concerns. Squeezed budgets have meant falling Probation Officer numbers; staff under relentless pressure and unacceptably high caseloads. This has inevitably resulted in poorer quality supervision, with over half of the cases we inspected in the private sector probation companies being unsatisfactory on some key aspect of quality.

“The new, unified Probation Service brings opportunities. It is a chance for the service to come together to speak with one voice.”

Quality and quantity are key

“The quality of probation supervision will not improve merely by lifting and shifting large volumes of cases from the private sector into the public sector. Vacancies for probation officers must be filled and staff properly trained for their new responsibilities. The positive innovations that the private companies have brought with them must not be lost.

“For the 220,000 people on probation there must be effective programmes that truly look to prevent reoffending, and victims must be properly supported and informed.”

Cash is crucial

“After many years of cuts – a 40 per cent real terms reduction in probation funding per case supervised – the injection of £150m of extra resource this year has been welcome. But it needs to be sustained if past damage is to be repaired. There are tough choices ahead in the next Spending Review for all government departments, but I appeal to HM Treasury to make probation a priority for additional investment. With the estimated economic and social cost of reoffending – by adults known to the criminal justice system – at £16.7 billion a year, probation investment can be a crucial catalyst for driving crime reduction and better protecting the public from harm.”