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As the year draws to a close, the ongoing changes to probation are still very much the focus of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), and are not far from the thoughts of the staff affected. On 2nd December, the MoJ released a report on the progress of its Transforming Rehabilitation agenda, following October’s announcement of the preferred bidders for the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs).

We’re glad the MoJ has chosen to openly publish its progress with a significant amount of detail released on specific issues that continue to be a challenge; including recruitment. 

The compilation of the report has clearly been no easy task in itself. After all, the government is bringing together a much broader pool of organisations from the private, public and voluntary sectors to develop new ways of turning the lives of offenders around. 

It’s not long now though until the CRCs step away from the public sector into the private world. However, there are some concerns that have been raised with regards to staff shortages, which in a transitional period is to be expected. 

The issue of staff vacancies is currently being monitored at senior levels within NOMS and there are plans to escalate any concerns so that public, offender, and staff safety is not at risk. Resource pressures are being dealt with by recruitment. In fact, being actively involved in recruiting probation staff, we can also report that there’s been a lot of movement in the sector throughout 2014, with 35% more placements than in 2013. 

According to the MoJ, 276 staff started in the National Probation Service (NPS) as trainee probation officers under the Probation Qualification Framework in late October. Whilst they are unable to take on a full caseload, they are helping to ease some of the pressures. It is our understanding that further intakes are scheduled for the end of January and the end of March 2015, with the January cohort expected to be similar in size to the October intake. 

In addition, 150 recently trained staff were placed into operational roles in the CRCs and NPS. 

Both the NPS and CRCs are currently preparing for the start of the Offender Rehabilitation Act (ORA). Local training events are being held to prepare staff, with preferred bidders working directly with their respective CRCs to get ready.

The NPS has been experiencing staff shortages within its divisional hubs, with recruitment at different stages depending on the locality. According to the MoJ, the hubs in Wales, the North East, the North West, and Midlands are fully staffed. Hubs in London, the South West and the South East remain understaffed. There are, however, contingencies in place, with interim support from the NOMS HR hub. 

The balance of work for each member of staff has already changed under Transforming Rehabilitation. NPS now provides all pre sentence reports (PSRs) for courts and manages all high risk and MAPPA cases. CRC staff no longer manage any high risk or MAPPA cases. Eventually, CRC staff will also not prepare any PSRs although are continuing to do so in some areas during the transition. 

We are naturally delighted that significant progress is being made, with the MoJ stating that the Courts have reported probation to have operated safely throughout the transition. We wouldn’t have expected anything less. We’ve been recruiting probation professionals for many years now with varying degrees of experience, but one attribute they all share is the passion for delivering exceptional work, often under very demanding conditions. 

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