Insights by Bevan Powell. “The revolution will not be televised!” The prophetic lyrics of the legendary poet and jazz performer Gil Scott Heron, resonate with Probation’s own ‘Rehabilitation Revolution’ and radical reforms, known as Transforming Rehabilitation(TR). The biggest shake-up of the service in its 108 year history received little media coverage.
The TR programme replaced 35 Probation Trusts across England and Wales with a single National Probation Service (NPS) and 21 private sector Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). Over 70% of the work of the former public sector probation service is now firmly in the grip of private and voluntary sector providers. A key component of the TR implementation, and perhaps one of the most emotive and sensitive, was the transfer of existing Probation staff to the NPS or a CRC through what was described as an ‘Assignment Process’. In response to a survey carried out by the NILE Group, a significant number of staff from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds felt that the process was unfair and in many cases believed that their race influenced assignment decisions.
“The TR Process has led to a decrease in black staff in NPS. There is also a decrease in the numbers of black senior managers. Overall, the discrimination and inequality is very much apparent.” A quote from a respondent of the NILE Joint Action Research Initiative (JARI) survey. Similar sentiments were echoed throughout the survey.
The NILE Group is an independent consortium of Black Asian and Minority Ethnic staff organisations/networks representing BAME professionals within the UK Criminal Justice System aiming to improve race relations and race equality.
Results from the survey found staff suffering from low morale and lacking confidence following the TR Assignment process. Our concerns are that a significant number of BAME staff from CRC’s and NPS have low levels of morale and confidence following the Assignment process. NILE has recommended that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation carry out an immediate investigation into the Assignment Process to ensure that there were no breaches of equality legislation.
Lord Herman Ousley had this to say in his written forward within the JARI report; “The JARI report makes some sharp recommendations which all require serious urgent consideration, not least the need for the HM Inspectorate of Probation to conduct or commission a thorough independent investigation into the implementation of the Staff Assignment Process in each of the 35 Probation Trusts to identify any breaches in the provisions of the National Framework and the Equality legislation. That is the minimum of requirements if the Probation Service is to be seen as fair and bias-free, serving all sections of the population with confidence, trust and integrity. The current situation of the over-representation of BAME “offenders” within the Criminal Justice System and the under-representation of BAME probation staff at senior levels and in decision-making roles is neither sustainable nor credible”.
Lord Ousely’s comments raise the question of who will champion issues of race within the new fragmented world of probation. The NILE Group believes that this places greater emphasis and demands on the role of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation and the Probation Institute. The offender population is made up of a diverse range of people from different backgrounds and communities. Treating these people as though they were one homogenous group is where I believe some of the greatest challenges and obstacles spring from, inhibiting the reduction of reoffending and attempts to reduce the disproportionate number of people from Black and Asian and other minority backgrounds in today’s prisons and broader CJS. Cultural competence within probation is a starting point: organisations must embed these skills if they are to successfully reduce offending across all groups.
Although there is not one agreed definition of cultural competence the model preferred by me is taken from the National Centre for Cross-Cultural Competence Georgetown University, USA:
To achieve Cultural Competence organisations must:
- Have a defined set of values and principles, and demonstrate behaviours, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally.
- Have the capacity to (1) value diversity, (2) conduct self-assessment, (3) manage the dynamics of difference, (4) acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge, and (5) adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of communities they serve.
- Incorporate the above in all aspects of policy-making, administration, practice and service delivery, systematically involve customers, families and communities.
A diverse workforce is a key component underpinning the idea of cultural competence and is key to the NPS and CRC’s addressing the issues of difference. The NILE Group believe that the involvement of BAME staff at all levels is critical to success. However, following on from the TR Assignment process, the NILE Group suggest that first step must be the immediate engagement and reassurance of BAME staff.
Opinion is split as to whether or not Chris Grayling’s social and economic experiment will achieve improved outcomes for probation. Reductions in recidivism is an obvious indicator, however in addition the NILE Group would also like to see the over-representation of BAME “offenders” within the criminal justice system addressed and reduced. A workforce that reflects those it serves at all levels within probation and zero tolerance of racial discrimination is another outcome. The NILE Group believe that organisations such as itself and the Association of Black Probation Offices(ABPO), working alongside probation agencies is important to achieving racial equality. With annual contracts worth £450m annually the public will want to see a serious return on investment.