This blog summarises the Regional Reducing Reoffending Plans produced in August 2021 by the 12 Regional Probation Directors. It also looks at how voluntary organisations can play their part in helping to define and strengthen probation strategies at a regional level.
What are Regional Reducing Reoffending Plans?
In June 2021 all sentence management in England and Wales was brought back under the responsibility of the Probation Service.
There are 11 Probation Service areas in England and one Probation Service area in Wales, with each area overseen by a Regional Probation Director (RPD) who is responsible for the overall delivery and commissioning of probation services in their area.
Each of the 12 RPDs has published a Regional Reducing Reoffending Plan (RRRP) that sets out how the Probation Service in their region will work with partner organisations to address the causes of reoffending. Clinks has taken a top-level look at these plans, to assess the level of detail they provide, as well as the clarity and firmness of the commitments they set out. This blog uses that analysis to summarise what the plans both do and don’t say, and how voluntary organisations can play their part in helping to define and strengthen probation strategies at a regional level.
What the plans do and don’t say
Across all the plans as a whole, there are some consistently strong commitments on specific identified priorities. For example, every plan specifically mentions women, and many make strong commitments about how the Probation Service will work better to recognise the specific challenges women in the criminal justice system face. For instance, the Wales plan highlights the existing women’s pathfinder that was co-commissioned with Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) and the Welsh government to provide wraparound, holistic services. The plan also gives details of plans to expand residential provision for women and the aim to increase the number of pre-sentence reports for women, as well as other groups.
There are also lots of clear commitments around accommodation. For example, Kent, Surrey and Sussex set out an aim for 90% of people to be in secure accommodation on the first night they are released from prison, through a new Community Accommodation Scheme. The plan also highlights some existing partnerships on accommodation, including one providing accommodation for people with multiple needs, and a co-commissioned project in Kent that provides up to 31 beds for 12 months.
However, across other issues, the plans are much weaker. It is particularly concerning to see that race and justice receives limited attention across the plans: whilst there are a number of references, they are rarely accompanied by specific commitments, instead being subsumed into wider conversation about people with protected characteristics. This is a particular concern because the Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME)* service category was not part of the commissioning process for day-one services and there remains a lack of clarity as to where and when organisations led by and focussed on racially minoritised people may have further funded opportunities to deliver services under the new model.
It is also disappointing to see that families and young people only see tangential mentions, often through wider discussion of protected characteristics or the Farmer Review, and older people are not specifically mentioned. The potential role for arts and creativity to support people is rarely discussed, and this is discouraging given the way such interventions can support people’s wellbeing and act as a way for people to engage with other support services.
The lack of inclusion of these areas in the plans is all the more disappointing because we know that there is work being carried out across a number of these areas that was not included in the plans. Therefore, we look forward to next year’s refresh of these plans that we hope will include a fuller picture of the work that is being done across different probation regions.
Overall, we see a mixed picture: some plans give lots of detail on the steps that will be taken locally across a range of areas to reduce reoffending, whereas others lack concrete commitments, and in some cases, do not mention important areas at all. The publication of these plans is at least a positive step and helps to strengthen accountability of the Probation Service under the reformed operating model.
Engagement with the voluntary sector
The voluntary sector plays a key role in working to reduce reoffending and supporting people who are in contact with the criminal justice system. Consequently, the ideas and visions set out in these plans offer an important way in which voluntary organisations can continue to engage the Probation Service, with the broad commitments they make offering possible ways in for engagement with RPDs and their offices.
In addition, RPDs will be commissioning services to support the plans, offering further opportunities for voluntary sector involvement. However, the lack of detail in some of the plans means that we do not know firmly what is in the commissioning pipeline over the course of the next year.
Many of the plans do set out how the Probation Service will engage with the voluntary sector at a regional level, but the quality of these mentions varies across plans, and only some make concrete commitments to engagement and specific mentions of particular organisations. The South Central plan offers a positive example of commitments to engage the voluntary sector. It commits to developing more flexible commissioning pathways to allow smaller voluntary sector organisations to work with the Probation Service and to help it provide a more tailored service to meet the needs of people on probation. The plan suggests that this will make it easier for partners to work with the Probation Service, by removing unnecessary barriers, and setting and promoting clear local processes. In addition, the plan states that the Probation Service in the South Central Region will proactively establish strong partnerships with voluntary organisations and support capacity building in the voluntary sector. This will be coupled with meaningful opportunities for partners to be involved in driving priorities and identifying gaps.
Service user involvement was another area where we saw a mixed picture, with a good level of focus across most plans, including some strong, specific commitments. However, other plans included no mention of it at all. One of the positive examples here was the West Midlands. This plan committed to increasing the involvement of people with lived experience in the design and development of interventions, and continuing to involve people with lived experience within the organisation in other ways, such as peer mentors, and progression to paid employment.
We look forward to RPDs taking forward their plans’ commitments, and building upon previous recommendations from the voluntary sector, to continue to engage with the sector as more than just service providers. Previously, the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Board Special Interest Group on Probation Reform recommended the creation of a voluntary sector forum in each probation region to increase awareness and ensure that RPDs take ownership of engaging with the sector. This would enable better understanding of local challenges, promote multi-agency working and information sharing, and demonstrate how empowering and enabling voluntary sector services can help achieve the ambitions of the RRRPs. Clinks looks forward to continuing to work with the Probation Service to help support this engagement and the ultimate aim of reducing reoffending.
* Clinks strives to use language that challenges and does not contribute to racist ideas, actions and policies. In our own work we do not use this term and recognise it can be othering, assume homogeneity, ignore intersectionality, and place recognition on some groups over others. We use it here as this is the language used to describe this service category.
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.@hibiscuscharity have launched a report - funded by Clinks - which explores the complex issues faced by Black, minoritised and migrant women in contact with the CJS and the resulting impacts on their mental health.
Read the report here: https://hibiscusinitiatives.org.uk/media/2023/06/rmc-mental-health-report-document.pdf