Rehabilitation activity requirements (RARs), a central feature of many community sentences, are not being delivered properly, said Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation. These flexible provisions in community sentences enable probation providers to do whatever they think will work best with individuals to reduce their reoffending, but all too often, too little is actually being done. Today she published a report, The Implementation and Delivery of Rehabilitation Activity Requirements.
RARs were introduced in 2015 alongside the new probation delivery arrangements to ensure flexible and efficient sentencing, and at the same time liberate the new probation providers and encourage innovation. The aim was to reduce reoffending. One in three community orders now includes a RAR provision in the order. Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) carry the large majority of these cases. The court specifies a maximum number of days of activity to be undertaken, with probation providers then free to decide what happens from then on.
Inspectors found that not enough was being done under these orders to meet the government’s policy aims. Instead they found a lack of impetus and direction in a good proportion of cases and as a consequence, early signs of a reduction in confidence from judges and magistrates.
Not enough was being done by the National Probation Service (NPS) in court reports to advise sentencers about what can be done locally under these provisions, or whether or not this was the most suitable sentencing option. Other government initiatives, for example changes to speed up sentencing, meant that staff did not always have time for the more detailed checks and assessments necessary before court, to support other sentencing recommendations which might in some cases be more suitable, such as drug or alcohol treatment.
Subsequent decisions about the work to be done tended to be influenced by the limited range of activities available rather than the factors most clearly linked to the offending. What is more, too little activity had happened in the cases inspectors looked at, and in over one in ten there had been no purposeful activity at all. In cases where those sentenced did not turn up for appointments, the response by CRCs was inadequate, leading to a lack of sufficient progress for those individuals and reducing sentencer confidence in these sorts of community orders.
These problems were made worse by outdated IT systems which were not designed to capture the new pattern of contacts, meaning records were confused and inaccurate.
Inspectors made recommendations which include CRCs and the NPS making sure that NPS court liaison staff have sufficient information about the activities available to make informed proposals for RARs, and HM Prison and Probation Service should make sure case management systems give an accurate record of RAR days and appointments. But above all, CRCs need to do more.
Dame Glenys Stacey said:
“These orders have a key role to play in reducing reoffending. Government hoped that the new probation companies would use them to do more to rehabilitate offenders, but in fact less than ever is being done. So far this has been a triumph of experience over hope, rather than hope over experience. We advise government to consider whether, with changes to probation company contracts these orders can be made to work well, or whether it is time for a more fundamental rethink.”
A copy of this report can be found on HM Inspectorate of Probation’s website at http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation from 22 February 2017.