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Supporting the future of probation

Dan Allard & Ed Stevens

Dan Allard & Ed Stevens

As the UK’s 35 probation trusts prepare to close at the beginning of June, specialist recruitment agency, Sanctuary Criminal Justice, shows support for those affected by the Ministry of Justice’s controversial ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ (TR) agenda.

While probation professionals across the country remain unconvinced about the government’s efforts to reduce reoffending rates, which will eventually see the responsibility for approximately 220,000 low to medium risk offenders transferred to the private sector, the complex and fast-moving changes proposed are seeing their way through the protests.

As set out by the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, probation trusts will be reorganised into a single national public sector probation service and 21 new government-run companies, which will be transferred to bidding private sector companies in 2015. This is a move Dan Allard, Team Manager of Sanctuary Criminal Justice, is determined to support their clients and candidates through. He said:

“There may be delays ahead, but the transfer will happen so we have to be prepared. It’s an unsettling time for all those working within the probation service, which is why they need support to ensure the smoothest transfer possible.

“As a specialist agency for the criminal justice sector, we understand the vital role probation professionals play in protecting the public. Working with offenders requires a unique set of skills for what can be a very difficult job. The need for this expertise must be understood and supported if we are to expect probation staff to continue providing the same dedication, regardless of which provider they are working for.”

Currently, 30 private sector and voluntary organisations are competing for the provision of services for low to medium-risk offenders across England and Wales, which will be split into 21 Contract Package Areas (CPAs). Successful bidders for the work will be paid on a ‘payment by results’ model according to how well they cut re-offending rates. A new and smaller public sector National Probation Service (NPS) will retain responsibility for the supervision of high risk offenders.

However, as the Ministry of Justice paves the way for the most radical change in the probation service’s history, an increasing number of probation officers are going on strike across the country. While many are against outsourcing services through fear of the impact it may have on public safety, concerns and uncertainty relating to their individual careers and new employment conditions are also apparent.

Dan recalls the day the news broke: “From the moment the plans to privatise probation services were announced, we were inundated with calls from probation staff, who were concerned about what this means for them and their career. It’s a huge change that is being implemented very quickly – probation staff are having to adapt fast whilst keeping up with revisions to key dates and what is expected of them. We are determined to support those affected wherever we can, including clients, one of which called us to say they needed staff immediately having lost eight members of their probation team in one day.”

Sanctuary Criminal Justice, which works closely with the country’s probation trusts, has created a dedicated online resource, www.sanctuaryprobation.com, to keep all those concerned up-to-date with the TR agenda. This includes hosting a series of live online chats, inviting probation professionals to discuss their concerns with others in the same position as well as a panel of probation experts. The first online discussion will take place on Tuesday, 13 May 2014 at 7pm.

Dan explains, “From speaking with probation officers on a daily basis, it is clear that many have the same concerns; how will the new providers taking over affect my pay? Who are the new service providers? Can my experience in probation be transferred to other disciplines like youth offending? Will there be new computer systems? Our online discussion will be a much needed platform for individuals to put their questions forward and, hopefully, ease uncertainty.”

Sanctuary Criminal Justice is also a provider of substance misuse professionals to private companies; a field of work that the public sector was previously responsible for. Ed Stevens, the agency’s Lead Consultant specialising in recruitment for the substance misuse profession, addressed the similarities: “The substance misuse sector has already experienced the transfer of some services from public sector NHS trusts to private organisations; a move that has been met with both positive and negative feedback. Similarly to many probation officers, substance misuse professionals found it an unsettling time too – many were resistant to the change and how services may vary across the private sector. However, I have since been in conversations with substance misuse nurses, who have highlighted the strong focus on recovery outcomes and how it has still provided the rewarding results they aim to achieve in their role.”

Whilst there are clearly divided views on whether the probation reforms will be an improvement or not, there is a shared goal in what the services are trying to achieve; to reduce reoffending with efficient use of taxpayers’ money. This is something Dan believes comes down to operational performance and supporting skilled practitioners to deliver. He concludes, “Part of our role as a recruitment agency is to help ensure the probation service continues to be staffed by highly educated and skilled individuals – whether they are supervising high risk or low and medium risk offenders.”

For more information on Sanctuary Criminal Justice’s recruitment service, call 0333 7000 024 to speak to a specialist consultant or visit www.sanctuarycriminaljustice.com.

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