Probation Reset

Written 14th May 2024 by Saskia Abbot

A Written Ministerial Statement to Parliament was laid earlier this month which announced the ‘Probation Reset’. This has the aim of reducing demands on the Probation Service as well as helping to strengthen capacity to engage with offenders in the community at the most important time in their sentence.  

What is a Written Ministerial Statement? 

A written ministerial statement is a statement made to parliament in a written form, usually addressing major incidents, police and actions. They are often used to announce procedure and policy as well as putting general day-to-day government business on the official record and in the public domain. 

What is the Probation Service?

The Probation Service (Probation) are responsible for sentence management in both England and Wales. There are 12 regions in England and Wales, each overseen by a Regional Probation Director, with the focus on helping offenders make positive changes in their lives. Probation also prioritises protecting the public by rehabilitating offenders to reduce their risk of re-offending and working closely with the police, prisons and courts. 

Probation is under an immense amount of work pressure partly resulting from the knock-on effect of limited prison places. The fact that prisons are full places significant pressure on the Probation Service to work with offenders in the community where resources are limited. The reduction of supervision was proposed as a result of the Probation Service working at between 150 and 200% of their contracted hours.

The Probation Reset 

Between the 29th of April and the 1st of July 2024, the Probation Service will be ‘reset’ so that the focus will be at the point in sentence that has the most impact on people. There has been ministerial agreement to cease requiring some of those under PSS supervision to report to probation beyond the two-thirds point of their order or licence, targeting rehabilitation of the more serious offenders. 

This means that contact with an offender within the final third of their sentence or contact with an offender who has been released on licence and subject to post-sentence supervision (PSS) will end unless there is an exemption

What are the exemption cases?

Exemption cases are cases that will still continue with probation contact in the final third of their sentence. 

These will consist of: 

  • Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) of all Categories (1-4) and Levels (1-3). MAPPA are a set of statutory arrangements to assess and manage the risk posed by certain sexual and violent offenders. MAPPA was established by Sections 325 to 327 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003;
  • All cases directly managed by a Specialist Probation Practitioner in the National Security Division (NSD); 
  • All cases identified as very high risk of serious harm; 
  • All cases with current active child protection procedures in place 

For all other cases, the following will apply:

  • Active supervision appointments with individuals subject to licence will cease after the two-thirds point. One further follow-up appointment is required for licence cases only midway through the final part of the licence.
  • Active supervision appointments under post-sentence supervision will also cease to be delivered unless cases fall under the exemption criteria. PSS cases will continue at the current frequency.
  • For Community Orders or Suspended Sentence Orders with a Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR), RAR appointments and delivery of activity days will cease to be delivered after two-thirds of the order has passed.

Lord Bellamy (Secretary of State for Justice) commented:

We will also increase awareness about the availability of tags, especially high-tech GPS and alcohol monitoring tags, to ensure that offenders can be monitored in the community. We will also extend the existing end-of-custody supervised licence measure to around 35-60 days. This will only be for certain low-level offenders. Ministers will continue to keep use of this measure under review. These measures all rely on a Probation Service that can focus its attention on the most critical points of the justice system”. 

“From April, we will reset probation so that practitioners prioritise early engagement at the point where offenders are most likely to breach their licence conditions, allowing frontline staff to maximise supervision of the most serious offenders. Similarly, for those managed on Community Orders and Suspended Sentence Orders, probation practitioners will ensure intervention and engagement are prioritised towards the first two-thirds of the sentence, as experience shows that this most effectively rehabilitates offenders”

He went on to express his deepest gratitude for all those working in the justice system and praised the efforts of those committed to keeping the country safe. 

Criticism of the Probation Reset

This development has not gone without criticism, as many will argue that this means the risk to the general public will be greater, the concern being that some offenders will be released with minimal supervision. There is also criticism of the ‘early release scheme’ which is aimed at tackling overcrowded prisons. This scheme was introduced to allow the release of some eligible prisoners early by up to 70 days. 

Sir Bob Neill, said “The lack of prison spaces and the lack of resources in probation have created “the perfect storm” and warned that ministers need to be aware of the risks. 

Anthony Goodman, a former probation officer commented “This is trying to put a sticking plaster on something that needs major surgery.” 

“Unless something is really done to look at what’s going on, then we’re just going to muddle along to the detriment of the general public who – I think rightly – should feel less safe as a result of this.” 

The Inspector of Probation has commented he will monitor both the implementation of the early release scheme and the limited supervision requirement to make sure it’s done safely.

It appears that the thought process is that offenders are more at risk of offending and putting the public at risk in the earliest part of their supervision so it’s obvious the focus should be greater here. 

The ‘reset’ will reduce caseloads and allow probation staff to focus on and maximise the supervision of the most serious offenders. This will need to be closely monitored because as supervision is removed the risk will inevitably increase and it is of paramount importance that society is kept safe.

Olliers Solicitors – specialist criminal defence lawyers

Olliers is one of the UK’s leading criminal defence and regulatory law firms, specialising in the defence of individuals, businesses, and other organisations across a broad range of corporate and financial crime, regulatory offences, serious crime and sexual offences

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Saskia Abbot

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