Community Justice Files 38

Published 15/03/2016
Type Review
Author(s) Dr Nick Flynn, Ross Little
Corresponding Authors

COST Action: ‘Offender Supervision in Europe – Bridging Research, Policy and Practice’
On 11th-12th March 2016 the final conference of the international research network Cost Action (IS1106) on ‘Offender Supervision in Europe’ took place at the Free University of Brussels. Against the backdrop of a rapid increase in the numbers of offenders subject to supervision across Europe (an increase which cannot be explained by crime rates and which has not impacted to any significant extent on the use of imprisonment), this four year research collaboration has been guided by a concern that the small amount of research undertaken into the rapidly growing numbers of offenders supervised in the community has failed to engage with policy and practice. To address this, it has sought to develop new research projects and research methods, and more generally to facilitate cooperation across European countries between researchers, academics, practitioners and policy makers. Six pilot research projects have been developed:

  • The Eurobarometer project – a survey instrument to compare across jurisdictions the experience of those subject to supervision
  • The Supervisible project – the use of photography to represent the experience of supervision
  • Comparative vignette methodology – the construction of case scenarios to explore decision-making processes related to breach and the management of compliance
  • Visualising practice – the use of photography to represent and compare supervision
  • Observing practice – to compare across European countries the practice of conducting first meetings between supervisors and supervisees
  • Practice diaries – to compare across European countries the professional lives and routine practices of supervisors.

As described in the final report, the key findings of the project are as follows:

• Although most people who experience supervision find it helpful and affirm the support of supervisors, experience varies from country to country especially in relation to assistance provided on employment, housing, finances and offending.
• Supervision hurts, even when it is considered to be constructive and helpful. The experience of being supervised is often represented as being painful in a variety of ways. Themes of constraint, losing time, waste, and being condemned to further sanctions should they be judged as somehow failing were all common themes expressed by people under supervision.
• There is a lack of research on decision making processes and forms of supervision by different agencies across Europe. For example, breach and revocation are under-researched in relation to significant variations in procedures and the extent to which discretion is exercised. Similarly, there appears to be a blanket decision in some countries to exclude certain groups from receiving community sanctions: foreigners and mentally ill people for example.
• Research on the comparative practice of offender supervision is also limited. Evidence was found of significant variation in practice but also of a ‘habitus’, or a consistent approach and disposition common to practitioners in different jurisdictions and settings.

Finally, the report presents the implications for future policy, practice and research:

• Since supervision hurts, the principle of proportionality should guide decisions on its imposition, length, form and requirements. Unintended and unnecessary pain should be avoided.
• Supervisory sanctions should be made more accessible to marginalised and vulnerable groups such as foreign nationals and people with mental health problems.
• Considerable discretion is necessary to maintain the dignity of persons subject to supervision in order to fulfill the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law.
• Working fairly and helpfully with people under supervision supports constructive relationships and encourages desistance.
• Further research should be carried out on: the experience of supervision, including how it relates to families, communities, employers and victims; decision-making; the similarities and differences between jurisdictions

The blog site for the COST Action: ‘Offender Supervision in Europe network can be found at:

More details on the six pilot research projects can be found at:

Electronic Monitoring (revisited)
A project arising out of the Cost Action: Offender Supervision in Europe network has been European-funded research into the use of electronic monitoring in EU Member states. Running from May 2014-May 2016, the project ‘Creativity and effectiveness in the use of electronic monitoring as an alternative to imprisonment in EU member states’ has compared the operation of electronic monitoring for adults in five European jurisdictions: Belgium, England and Wales, Germany, the Netherlands and Scotland in order to examine its effectiveness in providing a humane alternative to custody. Inter alia, the research shows that:

• High use of electronic monitoring is linked to high use of imprisonment. For example, England and Wales, which has the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe, uses electronic monitoring to a much greater extent than the other four jurisdictions. This raises complex questions about the role of electronic monitoring to both expand and contract prison populations.
• An increase in the use of electronic monitoring is associated with a decrease in the involvement of the probation service. For example, in England and Wales the lack of credibility afforded to probation services has contributed to a policy drive to increase the use of electronic monitoring. Therefore, the use of electronic monitoring has tended to develop and work in parallel to the probation service. Associated with this, private sector involvement in electronic monitoring determines the extent to which it is integrated with probation services. In England and Wales, pre-trial electronic monitoring, standalone electronic monitoring sentencing requirements and Home Detention Curfews require no state agencies to be involved unless orders are breached.
• Although, generally, electronic monitoring is not being used creatively in the five jurisdictions, electronic monitoring is being used in diverse ways in the five jurisdictions especially in relation to duration and intensity of use and monitoring requirements, and so cannot be considered a homogenous penal measure.

More information on ‘Creativity and effectiveness in the use of electronic monitoring as an alternative to imprisonment in EU member states’ can be found at:

A research briefing Creativity and Effectiveness in the Use of Electronic Monitoring: A case study of five European jurisdictions can be found at:

Probation Institute position paper
The Probation Institute (PI) has published a ‘position paper’ entitled Penal Reform. This is the second in the Institute’s series of sixteen position papers.

The paper, published on 4th March following speeches by the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Justice, sets out what the PI considers the key issues that must be addressed if reforms are to have an impact on reducing re-offending. In summary, these are that:

• The prison population is unsustainably high. The prison population has doubled in England and Wales during a time when recorded levels of crime have been falling. Many people in prison have not been convicted of violent offences and do not pose a danger to others. Many have issues associated with addiction and/or poor mental health.
• Governor autonomy on its own is not sufficient to reduce re-offending rates. Whilst it represents a welcome move away from central control, prison governor autonomy is unlikely to have much impact because the numbers of people in the system needs to be centrally or regionally controlled. Tying performance on reoffending rates to prison based services is problematic. It is also difficult for prison governors and staff to acquire the detailed knowledge of the local community into which prisoners will be released.
• ‘Justice Reinvestment’ is required to achieve reductions in re-offending. Reinvesting the resources currently deployed to manage an unnecessarily high prison population into better resourced and targeted community-based programmes and preventative measures is the over-arching strategy most likely to achieve sustained reductions in re-offending. Re-offending rates of those supervised in the community are consistently lower than those for custody. The difference widens when applied to those serving sentences of 12 months and under.

The paper concludes that without a wider criminal justice strategy – one that reduces thenumbers in prison and re-invests in the resources thus released in community-based sanctions and preventative measures – the effect of current proposed reforms is likely to be minimal and any reductions achieved unlikely to be sustainable.

To read the position paper in full:

Ministry of Justice Departmental Plan 2015-2020
The Ministry of Justice published its Departmental Plan for 2015 to 2020 on 19th February. The Total Departmental Expenditure Limit for 2015-2016 is £6.5 billion. The plan includes four objectives:

1. Improve public safety and reduce reoffending by reforming prisons, probation and youth justice (emphasis added)
2. Build a One Nation justice system by making access to justice swifter and more certain for all citizens whatever their background
3. Uphold the rule of law, defend the independence of the judiciary, safeguard essential liberties and restore historic freedoms
4. Delivering efficiently in MOJ: ensure the best possible service for citizens by making our department more efficient and more open, with policy driven by evidence.

The first objective is most relevant to those interested in probation services. In relation to probation, the plan states that:

‘…we will build on our reform of probation to ensure offenders are monitored and supported effectively after they have left custody. In the last Parliament we ensured, for the very first time, that every offender, sentenced to more than a day in prison is supervised properly on release. In the past, offenders sentenced to terms of less than 12 months had next to no support. The Transforming Rehabilitation reforms which extended the reach of probation also brought more commercial expertise and charitable energy into reducing reoffending and we will support the innovative work now being done by more and more Community Rehabilitation Companies.’

The Lead Minister for Objective 1 is Andrew Selous MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons, Probation, Rehabilitation and Sentencing. The Lead officials for Objective 1: Michael Spurr, Chief Executive, National Offender Management Service and Indra Morris, Director General, Prisons Policy, Strategy and Change.

To read the full version of the Single Departmental Plan 2015 to 2020:

Chief Inspector of Probation’s Speech to Howard League conference
As part of a Justice Inspectorate plenary session on ‘Inspection as a Catalyst for reform’, Dame Glenys Stacey, Chief Inspector of Probation, gave a presentation at the Howard League for Penal Reform’s conference entitled ‘Justice and penal reform: Re-shaping the penal landscape’ on 16th March.

The Chief Inspector stated that “a competing market often lends itself to a risk-based approach to inspection” and requires foresight regarding “how market pressures will influence what is done, and what is not done”.

The best inspectorates, she stated “strike that tricky balance between process and outcomes – words that are so commonly used, but often not  sufficiently well defined and understood. Let us not forget that there should be, there is a relationship between the two.”

She explained how inspectorates wrestle with the question of what proportion of their limited resources should be devoted to thematic inspection and what proportion should be spent on the more routine inspection of individual bodies. “In deciding the right balance, we should keep in mind that timely, risk-based thematic inspection is particularly valuable in times of change.”

She highlighted that whilst quantitative measures of delivery by the NPS and CRCs are important and necessary, they are also insufficient. This is because “on their own, they do not necessarily answer the big questions: for example, are CRCs working with the luntary sector in a sufficiently joined-up and systematic way and if not then why not, and is the “Through the Gate’ initiative working well enough (in these early days) to be likely to deliver the significant expectations of it?”

The value of thematic work, the Chief Inspector stated, can be to illuminate matters of particular concern at points in time but it can also shed light on more longstanding matters. For example, she questioned the extent to which local authorities are providing accommodation and support to 16 and 17 year olds in the manner anticipated by the law (the Southwark judgment).

To read the transcript of the full speech by the Chief Inspector of Probation:

Contracting Out Probation Services 2013-2016
A Parliamentary briefing paper entitled Contracting Out Probation Services 2013-16 was published on 22nd January 2016 by the House of Commons Library. The briefing paper charts the progress of the recent reforms to probation services in England and Wales and brings together some of the associated commentary.

The briefing outlines that 45,000 extra people are being subject to the probation system due to the introduction of community supervision for those serving prison sentences of 12 months or less.

The report explains that there have been concerns about ‘the pace of change…the danger of fragmentation… about IT systems’ and about the lack of clarity for the voluntary sector about their role. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation have produced three reports about the reforms. Whilst the most recent has found some improvement in communication between the National Probation Service (NPS) and the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), enforcement has been found to be variable and there were problems with risk assessment and child protection.

The briefing paper helpfully explains the centrality of ‘Payment by Results’ (PbR’ to the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms. Quarterly cohorts of people subject to probation supervision are being established and measured since October 2015. There is a 26-month period between the start of a cohort and the first potential payment to CRCs under the mechanism would be in December 2017. The National Audit Office report on the Government’s use of PbR across the public sector concluded that there were risks to commissioners and a lack of credible evidence that the approach can work well in  practice. Without such evidence the report stated that commissioners may be using PbR in circumstances to which it is not suited.

The report includes a useful section on ‘Debate in Parliament’ and an appendix of the new CRC owners announced in December 2014. To read the full report of Contracting Out Probation Services 2013-16:

Payment by Results – lessons from the literature
Russell Webster has recently undertaken a review of the PbR literature, analysing a total of 93 PbR studies, the majority of which (75) focussed on PbR in the UK. The review, published on 3rd February, was part of a separate project to develop an interactive tool to help commissioners and providers decide whether or not a payment by results approach might be an effective approach to commissioning a particular service.

The review notes that PbR has become much more widespread, in the UK in particular, since 2010 when it was championed by the government in general and the Treasury in particular. The rapid growth in PbR schemes has occurred at the same time as substantial cuts to public services.

One of the main findings of the review is that:

‘PbR schemes are so varied, tend to be commissioned for such different reasons (to improve outcomes and/or stimulate innovation; to reduce costs, to transfer risk from government or commissioners, to encourage new markets), and are so often poorly evaluated, that it is not yet possible to pass judgement on whether the PbR model works.’

A key emerging theme is the limited amount of discussion and negotiation between commissioners and providers at all stages of the process. The review seeks to improve this situation and help progress the debate from binary positions of being for or against PbR to a more nuanced understanding of the conditions in which it is more appropriate to use.

To read more about Payment by Results – lessons from the literature:

Probation Institute Academic Advisory Panel
The Probation Institute has announced the launch of its Academic Advisory Panel. The panel will have responsibility to develop and sustain relationships with academic partners, as well as support the work of the Institute’s Research Committee. The Panel, chaired by Emerita Professor Anne Worrall, consists of university experts who are recognized for their contributions to probation-related research.

To read more about the launch of the Academic Advisory Panel: