Probation is a very important aspect of the English penal system, before you can explain its effectiveness it is important to discuss and explain why it is important. Probation allows an offender a ‘second chance’ to be a better person and to create a better life for themselves. For many offenders, a custodial sentence would actually be more detrimental to their development. An example of this is an offender with mental health issues, for them the stress and anxiety caused by a custodial sentence could cause their mental health to further deteriorate and potentially cause them to reoffend. In circumstances like these, a probational sentence would allow the offender to be comfortable in their routine thus not to cause a mental breakdown and also ensuring they are justly punished for their offences.
A total of 268’062 have been sentenced to a probation sentence across England and Wales of this number 59% successfully completed their probation and did not reoffend (HM Inspectorate of probation, 2018) That leaves a total of 41% of people who do not complete their probation and go on to reoffend. I don’t think its fully possible to assess the reliability and effectiveness of the probation method of rehabilitation, I believe that this is largely down to the individual. The way they have been brought up, thus bringing around the nature Vs nurture argument. How can someone be rehabilitated and complete a full probation program if they do not have the willingness to learn and be rehabilitated? If offending is all they know how can they change this behaviour?
In my current job role as a paralegal I liaise with probation to ensure they produce pre-sentence reports for those who are awaiting a sentencing hearing. Many of the offenders that are awaiting this sentencing report are remanded into custody until the report is completed. I have seen many of our clients have their sentencing dates adjourned due to reports not being completed on time because of understaffing in the probation service.
The longer a client spends in prison, the further they become from rehabilitation. The lack of staffing in the probation service also causes strain on the offender’s ability to obtain the right probation program suited to them. A report conducted by the center for crime and justice studies stated that the changes in the probation service budget is causing detrimental ‘Staff are working with more cases with constrained resources. The ratio of offenders to main grade officers has increased by 26 per cent while the ratio of offenders to all frontline staff, including probation services officers, has increased marginally by 4 per cent’ (Center for crime and justice studies, 2010).
The understaffing issue that is being faced is causing serious issues with the attention that each case gets, resulting in offenders being held in custody for longer and not enough time spent looking at individual cases to come to suitable alternative to jail for each offender. We hear every day about the prison crisis becoming worse as the years go by however, this could be helped by probation improving the turn around on reports and offenders being given suitable alternatives to jail time rather than being held in jail.
by Shelby Keppel
HM Inspectorate of probation, 2018 [Online] available at; https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2018/01/London-NPS-QI.pdf [Last accessed at 29th September 2019]