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Rehabilitation Transformed? (Chapter 2 – Up to Speed)

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Hello! Welcome back readers, it has been a while since the last blog, but we hope to make up for the gap with a close look at TR (for those who missed the first edition that’s Transforming Rehabilitation).

This time, I hope to bring you right up to the present day, with review of what has changed. As I mentioned in Chapter 1, June 2014 was the key moment, when (after months of rumour, uneasiness and anticipation) TR finally came in to effect and it is there, where we shall begin.

After years of planning, the Coalition Government had passed the law for a new and reformed Probation Service. I remember it very clearly - as a recruiter for the UK Probation Market, it was pretty much all we talked about in the months leading up - we were all full of anticipation for what was to come. The Probation Trusts we had come to know so well, were to conclude operation and after several more months of trepidation, we were introduced to our new clients – the NPS and the CRC’s.

June 2014, saw the creation of 21 new CRC companies and 7 NPS regions. As I mentioned in my previous article, the state run NPS, would retain the highest risk cases and the overview of Prison rehabilitation, the CRC’s took control of the low/medium risk caseloads, and also ran the unpaid work programmes.

As dramatic as that sounds, not much actually changed, not right away anyway. People still worked out the same offices, and did the same jobs. In fact the CRC’s were not actually private at this stage - they remained in public hands, up until Feb 2015 (more on that later). Within weeks though, it became evident that a line was being drawn.

The first real change we began to see, was the division of caseloads and offenders; Offender Managers were assigned to commence working for the CRC or the NPS based upon the projected needs of the services and what risk the bulk of their cases were at the time. Those who landed on the CRC side of things would no longer work with their high risk cases whilst the NPS would no longer deal with the lower risk offenders. The staff working for the old trusts were now divided between the 2 new employers - they saw through this change and over the next few months, they adjusted to their new roles.

The next major news came through in October 2014 when the Ministry of Justice announced the preferred bidders for the CRC’s. These bidders were coalitions of Private firms, Charities and Public Bodies, who would ultimately become the owners and the responsible bodies for roughly 70% of the UK’s offenders.

It didn’t take long to dot the ‘I’s’ and cross the ‘T’s’ so in December 2014, Chris Grayling – Secretary of State for Justice at the time – signed over the ownership of the CRC’s from state to Private hands. Please follow this Link to see exactly which companies/coalitions took over which area.

February 2015 saw the various new owners move in and take control of their new companies, the mantle was passed (well half a mantle) and the Privatisation of Probation was complete. A 5 year plan had finally come to its climax. UK probation had changed forever but that’s not the end of this chapter just yet. We still have another year to look at, and assess what exactly has changed.

Following the changing of ownership, we heard rumour of impending movement - almost immediately, cuts and budgets, were now the talk of the town. The CRC’s wanted to slim down as there seemed to be a UK wide consensus that the best way to go about the massive task of reform was to cut the costs. From a business point of view, this makes perfect sense; minimise costs, maximise efficiency, improve reoffending rates, get paid via the government contract and everybody is happy.

Naturally different companies had a different outlook on what needed to be done, and more importantly in this case, how the changes would be brought in to effect. Some of the CRC’s such as Purple Futures, decided it would best to come in as silent partners, and assess the situation before making any changes. Others came in and initiated the slimming down process almost immediately.

The first areas to be hit by the streamlining were the back office and HR functions. Looking back at this now, the vast majority of CRC owners targeted these areas to bring down the cost of staff. Again if we look at Purple Futures as an example, they had taken over 4 of the 21 CRC’s – which meant 4 HR departments, 4 back office teams, 4 finance teams etc. – and they took the decision to streamline this to 1 set of back office functions (including HR service) for all 4 CRC’s, with each region having its own (much smaller) administration centre to provide a local presence.

Further savings were to be made by closing some of the offices the CRC’s & NPS were working from. This goes hand in hand with the changes in how Offenders are to be managed (more on that shortly) but allows the services to further reduce costs and support staff. We have already seen 10% of offices closed in one county.

It is also necessary to point out that front line operational staff have also been through their fair share of this. Probation Officers, Probation Service Officers, Case Admin etc. have all come under their fair share scrutiny. The fact is there have been redundancies and layoffs in most areas, both NPS and CRC.

In contrast to this, there have also been recruitment drives with nearly 1,000 new PO’s being trained and other training and development opportunities, especially for PSO’s. PSO’s have now started taking a much more active role in Court and Report related work in the NPS, and are a fundamental part of the CRC’s plans for the future, with many areas driving PSO recruitment.

Policies & Procedures also started to change, my colleague Dan wrote a fantastic piece on a major operational change in the NPS called E3, which you can read by clicking here. In addition to the changes outlined in my colleagues Blog, the NPS have also made huge changes in how the court Probation system works. PSR’s are no longer the norm and have been largely replaced by the shorter and faster ‘Fast Delivery Reports’ (FDR’s). FDR’s are also being processed by PSO’s now more than ever before, freeing up some of the demand for Probation Officers. Whilst this will obviously speed up the justice system, whether or not this will damage rehabilitation is yet to be seen.

The CRC’s have also started implementing changes in the way offenders are managed. Certain areas have categorised offenders, in an effort to gain maximum efficiency. A good example of this would be the MTC Novo owned London CRC, who now operate under a “cohort” model (click here to learn more about this). The idea behind it is to have certain offices that only deal with certain types of offenders such as sex offenders, female offenders etc.; by training staff members to focus on one type of offender, and then placing all these staff members in the same office, they are able to pool their knowledge and make rapid changes to how they work with them. In this way they are trying to improve the way these offenders are managed to deliver improved outcomes.

Another example of the change in CRC operation would be the Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC who have decided to re-structure their model basing their design on the Offenders immediate needs, they now have up to 4 different types of Offender Managers;
• Rehabilitation Offender Management (who only deal with offenders with Rehab needs)
• Resettlement Offender Management (who only work with offenders leaving prison)
• Assessment (who only work on inducting new clients into the premises, and conducting their initial risk assessment)
• Community Payback

Some CRC owners are still implementing their designs, whereas others have not changed the operating model very much at all. The main point being, that for the first time, TR has created a real difference in what services are doing. This is not necessarily a bad thing as each CRC try different methods, in time we will see what is working and what isn’t.

We have also seen a big change in the volume of judicial decisions favouring placing offenders unpaid work programmes over custodial sentences. This has led to a direct increase in the number of Unpaid Work/Community Payback Supervisors required. The figures showing if this is an improvement are again, yet to be seen.

Shortly after taking over, some of the privately run CRC’s (Sodexo for example) announced plans to update the software being used. The plan it seems is to create a completely new system that will, in time, replace OASys and NDelius. This will mean a return to the time where the systems used to monitor and assess offenders will be different depending the area or service in question. These updates will have distinct advantages for the CRC’s of being tailored to the new operating models and no doubt improve reporting ability of the services. This does raise the question though, what effect will this have on the clarity of communication between different services? E.g. NPS to CRC or even CRC to CRC.

What was clearly evident is that what started off as an imperceptible line between the NPS and CRC’s, has now become a very tangible line. Not only is there a distinct difference for the job roles of staff allocated to each, there are fundamental changes in changes in policy & practice and in many cases, location as well. CRC and NPS offices are still in the process of physical separation but this has inevitably solidified this difference between the two services, which may have a direct impact on communication between the partners.

I think that bring us to the end of this edition of my blog. Thank you so much for your time & I hope those wanting more information on TR found it informative. The 3rd and final part of this narrative will be out shortly, in which I will be turning into a mystic and predicting the future of Probation. Once again a big thank you for your time!
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