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In a foreword to its annual report and accounts, NOMS Chief Executive, Michael Spur, describes 2014-2015 as being a challenging year for the service.

‘Challenging’ it most certainly has been, with probation having to grapple with an inordinate amount of change; the most substantial in its 100 year history.

The report recognises that the demands on NPS, CRC and prison estate staff continue to be ‘considerable’ at a time where there is a ‘higher than forecast prison population’.  

Many of the demands are related to IT and information sharing, which we covered in a previous blog on HM Inspectorate of Probation’s second report assessing the impact of the probation restructure.

In praising staff for their ‘dedication, commitment and professionalism’, the report highlights that there has been a 7.4 percentage point fall in the 12 month re-offending rate for offenders released from prison or commencing a Court order since 2002.

Even though the re-offending rate for 2014-15 marginally increase by 0.1 percentage points compared to 2013/14, NOMS remains positive with what it calls a ‘step-change’ for the reduction in reoffending rates. This approach is likely to see significant adjustments to the ways in which information is exchanged between prison estate and probation staff.

The Prison Estate

There were a number of issues within the prison estate during the year, most notably a consistent rise in the prison population since the autumn of 2013 against a backdrop of staff shortages, especially in London and the South East.

In terms of operational pressures, the use of synthetic drugs was also pinpointed in the report as particularly troublesome, especially for those working in addiction services and substance misuse.

To meet the growing demand for custodial spaces, four new houseblocks have been opened, creating 1200 new places. Construction of a new 2,100 place prison in North Wales also started last year and is expected to be operational in late 2017.

Whilst there wasn’t any specific mention of how synthetic drug addiction is going to be tackled within the prison estate, there will be a renewed approach to decreasing violence linked to substance misuse.

Integrating services – Through the Gate

During the next 12 months, NOMS will focus on integrating services, especially on Through the Gate community-based probation resettlement.

In acknowledging the key achievements of the new probation structure, the report states 80% of cases are being assigned to an appropriate provider within 2 days of sentencing. It also stressed the efforts of staff in delivering extended supervision for those sentenced to less than 12 months in custody.

The sheer scale and success of the recruitment drive to accommodate the restructure of probation was praised, with over 650 new learners having been trained as probation officers.

Going forward, those working for the National Probation Service should receive more clarity on common operating models with the introduction of the E3 (Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Excellence) Programme, which is to be delivered late 2015-16.

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