Reflections on undertaking the Probation Qualifying Framework scheme during the Transforming Rehabilitation changes
This article reflects upon the author’s experience of undertaking the PQF (Probation Qualifying Framework) training scheme during the chaotic period of Transforming Rehabilitation. The author asserts that the uncertainty and precarious nature of the changes were detrimental to an effective learning environment, which ultimately promoted a practice culture of punitiveness and control and did not allow learners the space to be skilful and confident practitioners, comfortable working autonomously. Furthermore, the author contends there is an emerging culture within the NPS (National Probation Service) increasingly fostered on ‘risk management’, which is reflected in the vocational nature of PQF training and is contributing towards a widening cultural gap that is emerging between the community rehabilitation companies and NPS.
When the Coalition government’s ‘rehabilitation revolution’ was first articulated, innovation was an important theme, encompassing innovation by frontline staff, by organisations working within a mixed economy and even social entrepreneurs. Under Transforming Rehabilitation, innovation remained a stated aim of criminal justice reform, but the scope of innovation envisaged seemed to narrow. This paper describes the early stages of a socially innovative project to develop and implement a personalised approach to offender rehabilitation in the context of Transforming Rehabilitation. It draws on the concept of ‘desistance’. This in turn leads to consideration of community capacity-building and market development that draws on experience from the social care sector. A number of early challenges and plans to overcome them are discussed. Challenges include the inherent uncertainty of the innovation process; the importance of collaborating with a wide range of stakeholders, including service users and local community organisations; innovating during a period of organisational change and wider public sector cuts; and the public presentation of personalised working with offenders. Plans to address these challenges include moving gradually from small-scale prototyping to larger pilots and close collaboration between service providers and evaluators.
After some 30 years of using probation as an object of neoliberal economic and ideological thinking in order to redesign the delivery of what was a long established locally accountable public service, a radically new delivery landscape has been fashioned within the criminal justice system of England and Wales. Whilst much of the ideological and practical leg work had been undertaken by New Labour during their three terms in office (1997–2010), further conceptualization and meaning to what a Rehabilitation Revolution might look like was quickly taken forward by the incoming Coalition Government from May 2010 in the guise of the Transforming Rehabilitation project. Offender rehabilitation and public protection now face some severe challenges in the form of fragmentation, local accountability, communication, staff morale and occupational status and culture. As Transforming Rehabilitation receives a further injection of momentum from the Prime Minister, David Cameron, in his February 2016 vision for the future operation and role of prisons, we are left to ponder where this leaves probation in the context of reducing resources and increasingly scarce social provision and welfare benefits.
This article uses empirical data to consider the impact that Transforming Rehabilitation has had on National Probation Service (NPS) probation officers in terms of the increased numbers of high-risk offenders on the caseload. It was hypothesised by the researchers that the expectation that NPS probation officers would deal with more high-risk offenders would result in additional pressure on them. While this is certainly the case for some probation officers who work in the newly created NPS, the data show nuance in terms of the effect this dramatic change has had on probation officers. The article shows that there are both benefits and disadvantages to having a caseload comprised primarily of high-risk cases. The article concludes with a brief discussion of the findings in terms of the training and resourcing needs required by those NPS probation officers who are struggling with the shift to primarily high-risk offender management.
A continuing criticism of the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) reforms is that they fragment the process of probation supervision and, as a consequence, are likely to damage the network of relationships (between workers from different agencies as well as between supervisor and supervisee) that encourages compliance with orders and desistance from offending (PA/PCA, 2013; Ugwudike, 2013; McNeill and Robinson G, 2013; Robinson A, 2014). This short article reports on a research study that explored probation practice in an increasingly fragmented environment. The article outlines the implications of some of the study’s findings for the developing practice of community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) and highlights points of particular concern if good practice is to be maintained and practitioner expertise sustained.