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Probation in Statistics

2 Dec

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.

Probation’s Caseload

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.

Total of offenders under Probation Service supervision (at end of December), 1995-2011
Source: Offender Management Statistics Click on graphic to enlarge

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)

Prisoners and the Right To Vote in the UK & the USA

4 Nov

“It makes me physically ill even to contemplate having to give the vote to anyone who is in prison. Frankly, when people commit a crime and go to prison, they should lose their rights, including the right to vote.” 

– David Cameron, during Prime Ministers Question Time, November 3, 2010.

David Cameron’s position on voting rights for prisoners has the merit of consistency. Asked a question in the House of Commons some two years ago about whether the incarceration of convicted prisoners should result in a loss of inmates’ rights, he responded that voting rights for prisoners made him “physically ill”.

Since then, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the UK must end its ban on votes for prisoners after the government lost its ultimate appeal.

David Cameron has now pledged once again at prime minister’s questions that his coalition government would never give the prisoners the right to vote. While government now has around three weeks to decide its response to the European court ruling, the prime minister’s insistence last month that “No one should be under any doubt – prisoners are not getting the vote under this government” leaves little doubt about the substance of that official reaction.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling told the BBC that “It is very clear that most people in the political world in the UK don’t want to give votes to prisoners.”

However, the scale of disenfranchisement in the United States leaves the UK looking positively benevolent. America’s entrenched commitment to mass incarceration and a punitive penal system has long been acknowledged by criminologists. While the nation is home to just 1 in 20 of the world’s population, it imprisons no less than quarter of the whole world’s prison population, with a staggering total of 2.3 million of its citizens behind bars.

One element of American penality will play a key role in the forthcoming presidential election. When voters go the polls this Tuesday, an astonishing total of 5.85 million Americans will be forbidden to exercise the fundamental democratic right to vote. They have been stripped of that right because of what it officially labelled “felon disenfranchisement” – that is, those laws which restricting voting rights for anyone convicted of a criminal offence labelled as a “felony”.

Barack Obama or Mitt Romney? 5.85 million people have no say in the
Presidential Election, due to felony disenfranchisement
(creative commons licence)

A range of state laws bar both felons and in some cases ex-felons from the right to vote. Approximately three quarters of those who are disenfranchised are no longer even behind bars, but are subject to probation supervision or on parole.

Surprisingly for a UK observer, most disenfranchised American citizens are not actually in prison. Almost half of the total number of those barred from voting have already served their full sentence, and are no longer subject to the supervision of the correctional services.

According to the Sentencing Project, ex-offenders in the eleven US states which disenfranchise people after they have served their sentences comprise almost 45 percent of the total of the population denied the right to vote. According to research by the Sentencing Project, an American criminal justice campaigning group which promoting reforms in sentencing policy:

“The number of people disenfranchised due to a felony conviction has escalated dramatically in recent decades as the population under criminal justice supervision has increased. There were an estimated 1.17 million people disenfranchised in 1976, 3.34 million in 1996, and over 5.85 million in 2010.”

In short, 1 of every 40 adults of the USA’s total population of voting age is denied the right to vote due to a current (or previous) conviction for a felony. By my calculations, if the UK was to disenfranchise offenders at a similar rate, we would deny the right to vote around 1.15 million UK offenders and ex-offenders.

The dynamic of race plays a significant role felony disenfranchisement. The harsh reality that US imprisonment rates are disproportionately higher for African American men may hardly come as a shock, considering that America was embroiled in a civil war over the continuation of  slavery until just two lifetimes ago.

African American males are imprisoned at a rate of six times that of their white counterparts. More than two million black citizens are subject to the control of the correctional system, whether in custody, on probation, or on parole. This systematic network of what has been labelled as “racialized social control” (Alexander 2011:20) also encompasses voting rights.

It is astonishing to learn that now less that 1 in every 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised. This is a rate over four times higher than the rate for non-African Americans.

In three states (Florida, Kentucky and Virginia), more than one in five black citizens is denied the right to vote. The disproportionate representation of African Americans within the US penal system means that felony disenfranchisement has a significant impact on the representation of African Americans in the US political system.

There is some evidence that African Americans vote predominantly for Democratic candidates. In a presidential election which promises to be as tightly fought as the current one, African American disenfranchisement may significantly impact the Democratic vote.

Abraham Lincoln’s oft-quoted description of democracy in the United States as embodying “government of the people, by the people, for the people” rings somewhat hollow to almost six million citizens denied the right to vote.


ALEXANDER, M. (2011) ‘The New Jim Crow’, The American Prospect, pp. 19-21, Washington: The Justice Policy Institute.

UGGEN, C., SHANNON, S. & MANZA, J. (2012), State-Level Estimates of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 2010. Washington DC: The Sentencing Project.

WOOD, E. (2008), Restoring the right to vote. New York: Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.