A few years ago, the National Probation Service was split into two. The existing service maintained its supervision of high-risk offenders, mainly those serving lengthy sentences or with complex rehabilitation needs, the remaining offenders, by far the vast majority, are supervised by companies which bid to carry out rehabilitation work, with payment mechanisms often linked to success.
These arrangements have been subject to intense scrutiny in recent months, and the findings are grim, to say the least.
This is of concern because many offenders commit crime due to underlying circumstances, which if not resolved will inevitably lead to subsequent offending. For example, drug, alcohol and mental health treatment programmes must work if the cycle of offending is to be broken.
A report this week looked at another group of offenders, those who commit offences of domestic violence or abuse.
Domestic abuse is any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been, intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.
The abuse can encompass psychological, physical, sexual, financial and/or emotional harm.
Domestic abuse is the context within which an offence takes place rather than an offence.
There is no single offence of domestic abuse. Rather, a range of offences feature the behaviours exhibited as part of the pattern of domestic abuse. These include:
• physical violence
• psychological or emotional harm
• sexual violence
• ‘honour-based’ violence (for example forced marriage)6
• gang violence
• sharing or distributing intimate private videos or photographs of another
person without their permission (so-called ‘revenge porn’)
• coercive and controlling behaviour.
An estimated two million people experienced domestic abuse last year.
A good proportion of people in receipt of probation services are domestic abusers, and domestic abuse constitutes a sizeable proportion of the work of Community Rehabilitation Companies.
This group has been shown to have some of the most complex needs in terms of rehabilitation, rehabilitation that is vital to protect the public and set the offender on a path that allows them to move beyond their troubled past.
Regrettably, yet another report makes grim reading, these are some of its findings:
“Overall, practitioners were not empowered to deliver a good-quality domestic abuse service. They had unmanageable workloads and many needed more training and oversight. Inexperienced probation workers had full and complex caseloads and, because of the emphasis on remote working in some CRCs, they were unable to obtain support from their colleagues. The lack of knowledge, skill and time dedicated to managing domestic abuse led to considerable shortfalls in the quality of case management.
Many assessments were superficial. The tools that staff were using to complete assessments did not always help them to analyse and assess their cases thoroughly.
This left them without the necessary understanding of the context of the domestic abuse and the factors linked to the behaviours in the case. Some plans were helpful and included appropriately sequenced, individualised objectives, but this was not common practice.
Some of the CRCs’ work to protect victims (and especially children) was of grave concern. There was little correlation between the vision CRCs had for victims and the quality of practice.
Many probation workers did not fully understand the effect of domestic abuse on families or the relevance of an integrated approach to managing risk of harm. As such, they focused their work solely on the individual. Assessments and plans lacked depth: the voice and needs of victims, and information from partner agencies, were not analysed sufficiently and used to inform work to reduce risk of harm. Probation workers relied too much on the decisions of other agencies, such as children’s social care and the NPS, about levels of risk of harm and safeguarding, without checking their validity. As such, they were not always able to make effective decisions about how to protect victims and children. They often failed to see the monitoring of external controls, such as restraining orders, or undertaking home visits, as an integral part of their work.”
Why does this matter?
We see many clients who bitterly regret their offending behaviour and seek help in addressing the underlying causes. A society that does not assist offenders to rehabilitate bears a heavy cost, both financial and worse. All policymakers must address the concerns in recent reports as a matter of urgency.