The Probation Service in England and Wales supervised some 234,528 people in 2011. This is almost three times the number of people in prison, yet probation achieved this huge scale of supervision with a relatively small number of staff. On 30th June 2012, the Probation Service employed a total of just 17,881 staff (this figure includes Chief Executives).
The number of probation staff is limited compared to (for example) the 134,101 police officers in post on 31 March 2012, or to the 45,576 prison service and NOMS HQ staff in post on the same day.
In addition, the total of 17,881 probation staff was 585 staff fewer than the year before.
Staff working in management roles in probation accounted for 11.87% of the total workforce (or 2,123 staff).
Probation: Providing Real Value
While probation does not always get a fair press, it provides immense value to the taxpayer, particularly when viewed in the context of the fiscal cost of imprisonment.
In 2011/12, the average cost for each Community Order/Suspended Sentence Order supervised was £4,135. The cost per offender supervised on licence post-custody was £2,380. The cost of writing a Pre-Sentence Report was just £215.
These figures compare very favourably with the average cost of providing a prison place for the year, which is £37,648.
As the shift to privatisation of a substantial proportion of the work of the Probation Service’s work flies, it is worth bearing the value offered by probation in mind.
Probation: A Representative & Diverse Service?
How representative of the wider population is probation? Women represented 71% of the probation workforce in post on 31 December 2011, whilst men were 29% of the total. The percentage of probation posts held by female staff has remained steady (hovering around 70-71%) since 2009, notwithstanding a 7% drop in the overall number of probation posts during this period.
The proportion of senior probation posts held by women rose by 5% between 2009 and 2011.
In terms of race and ethnicity, 14.1% of probation staff were from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BME) background on 31 December 2010.
Probation staff from a Black ethnic background represented 8.3%, those from an Asian background represented 3.5%, those of Mixed background were 1.8% and while those of Chinese or Other background represented 0.5% of the service.
The proportion of senior probation staff (that is, Chief Executives, Deputy Chief Officers, Assistant Chief Officers and Area/District Managers) from a BME background was 8%.
All of these figures suggest that probation has enjoyed more success in achieving diversity amongst its staff, including senior staff, than other criminal justice agencies.
At a senior level, 8.0% of staff identified themselves as from a BME background (up from 7.6% in 2009). Those from Black and Asian backgrounds represented 4.1% (up from 3.6% in 2009) and 2.5% (down from 2.9% in 2009) of senior level staff respectively.
The annual total probation caseload (court orders and pre and post release supervision) grew by 39% between 2000 and 2008, peaking at 243,434. It then marginally decreased to 234,528 in 2011.
The total of community orders fell by 8% in 2011 compared to the previous year.
Out of a total of 28,638 community orders which were terminated in the quarter ending on 30 June 2012, over two thirds (67%) were successfully completed or alternatively were terminated early for good progress.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the growth in probation’s caseload between 2000 and 2008 was propelled by
- Introducing new court orders, in particular the Suspended Sentence Order (SSO) in 2005 (under the Criminal Justice Act 2003).
- A rise in people receiving both pre and post-release supervision caseload due to:
- An increase in the total of those serving prison sentences of 12+ months who need to be supervised following their release;
- offenders who spend longer time on licence following release from prison with theCriminal Justice Act 2003
Supervision on Licence
Offenders serving a sentence of twelve months and over are released from prison (usually automatically, at the half way point of their prison sentence) and are subject licensed supervision by probation.
Between 1999 and June 2012, a total of some 590,000 offenders were released from prison on licence. Between April 1999 and June 2012, 143,000 of those released on licence were recalled to custody for breaching the conditions of their licence. This could be a result of various factors, including failure to report to their probation officer.
Of all those recalled to custody, only 976 had not been returned to custody by 30 September 2012. Of the 976 individuals, 117 were originally serving a jail sentence for offences involving violence against the person and an additional 33 people for sexual offences.
Probation is sometimes stereotyped as a service which is not sufficiently ‘tough’ on offenders.During the quarter ending June 2012, a total of 4,052 offenders had their licence revoked and were recalled. By 30 September 2012, 3,975 of these recalled offenders had been returned to custody. However, 77 had not been returned to custody.
Overall, around three quarters (76%) of orders and licences were successfully completed in 2011/12.
Probation & Community Payback
The Probation Service has operated offender behaviour programmes (for example, on domestic violence, sex offending, drug and alcohol treatment and thinking skills) for more than two decades. In addition, unpaid work is one of 12 possible requirements that may be attached a Community or Suspended Sentence Order.
While unpaid work is officially viewed primarily as a punishment, but may also fulfil the sentencing purposes of reparation and rehabilitation. The unpaid work element is known as Community Payback (previously Community Service). During 2011/12, approximately 8.3 million hours of Community Payback work were undertaken by offenders.
The government estimates that, calculated according to the National Minimum Wage, the annual value of Community Payback work to the community is over £50 million.
Should an individual fail to comply with the terms of their community sentence, ‘National Standards for the Management of Offenders’ require the supervising probation officerto take appropriate and timely breach action. In 2011/12, almost 95% of breaches were initiated within 10 working days.
To conclude the snapshot of probation in figures, it is worth recalling an earlier post on this blog:
“The Probation Service is one of the UK’s most vital public services, and it is high time we recognised the huge contribution that it makes to our national life. For one hundred years, the service has helped damaged and vulnerable people rehabilitate themselves and rebuild their lives, while reducing reoffending and protecting society.” – Brendan Barber, General Secretary, Trades Union Congress (Boroughs et al. , 2007:86)