On 23 September a group of representatives from the Napo branches in the North East met with local MP and shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon. This was a chance for Richard to find out more about the reality of life in the CRCs and the NPS.
We described for Richard the transition from a high performing, locally responsive, innovative and flexible system of Trusts to two organisations – one of which was parcelled up and sold off. Where staff once strove for excellence and engaged with latest research to develop best practice, the driver in CRCs is now profit and in NPS it’s following complex processes, regardless of their efficacy or relevance. The new world is one of high pressure, high workloads and high fear levels. In CRCs staff fear being next to lose their job, in the NPS staff fear falling foul of strict bureaucracy. Richard heard about job cuts in CRCs with new ways of working rushed in to bridge the gap, failing IT systems and closing of offices leading to struggles to do the most basic work with clients.
We shared examples of a move from delivering evidence based accredited programmes to short duration interventions with no evidence base, squeezed to fit a low-cost, low-quality model. Richard heard about clients having six or seven officers during their order and being allocated to a call centre based hub after 12 weeks, despite their individual needs and progress made (or lack of it). He was shocked to hear about CRCs not enforcing orders and licences and the concerns of sentencers about the legitimacy of community orders.
Representatives from the CRCs and the NPS described staff feeling burnout, sickness absence increasing and experienced staff “leaving in droves”. All agreed that people go into work in probation because they want to make a difference but they feel unable to do what is needed to achieve this due to structural issues. We know what we would need to do to support our clients to desist from offending but we are forced instead to spend time ticking boxes to meet arbitrary targets.
When Richard asked reps what was needed to improve the situation there was a unanimous answer: a single probation service, state owned, with no profit motive involved in providing such a complex service. Everyone present welcomed the involvement of other agencies in providing specialist services to our client group but we believe that the management of our client group should never be for profit. All present also wanted a return to interventions based on evidence of what works to support desistance, and an ability to respond to local priorities and circumstances rather than a rigid “one size fits all” approach based on reducing costs rather than improving quality.
National Vice Chair