Magistrates’ Perceptions the Probation Service

of

Research Study Conducted for The National Probation Service

June-July 2003

Contents
Introduction Summary of Findings Attitudes towards Probation
I pacton l ofcrm e m evel i At iudes t tt owar Pr i ds obaton Ef ectvenes i key r esand r ponsbiii f i sn ol es i ltes M agit at ver usGener Publc s r es s al i

1 3 5
5 8 9 10

Reports
Pr e-Sent ence Repor s t Specii Sent fc ence r t epor s Sugges i f I pr ng r t tons or m ovi epor s

12
12 15 16

Sentencing and Supervision
Com m uniy Sent t ences Com m uniy s ences ver uscus ody t ent s t Fact s i l or nfuenci s enci decii ng ent ng sons M anagi com plance ng i I pr ng t br m ovi he each pr s oces

18
18 20 21 22 23

Communication and Consultation
I or aton and cons t i nf m i ulaton Under t ng oft Pr i Ser ce s andi he obaton vi W hatdo m agit at wantt know m or about s r es o e ? M et hodsofcom m uni i caton Event and Tr ni s ai ng

24
24 25 28 30 31

Improving the Probation Service Appendices

33

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Introduction
Background and objectives
This report contains the findings from a survey conducted by the MORI Crime and Policing Research Unit on behalf of the National Probation Directorate. The computer tables showing the sub-group analyses are provided under separate cover. The survey’s aims were to obtain evidence of how magistrates currently view the Probation Service and its different activities, focussing on the perceived effectiveness of the Probation Service on a variety of functions, including reports, sentencing and supervision, communication and consultation, as well as looking at suggestions for improvement. The survey aims to provide a baseline measurement of perceptions for tracking in the future. After a summary of the key findings and implications, this report covers: • • Overall attitudes towards the impact of Probation on reducing crime; Perceptions of the effectiveness of the Probation Service and the services it provides; Attitudes towards pre-sentence and specific sentence reports; Attitudes towards sentencing and supervision, sentencing decision making and management of compliance; Communication and consultation between the Probation Service and magistrates.

• •

1

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Methodology
Self-completion questionnaires were sent out as an insert inside the June 2003 edition of ‘The Magistrate’ magazine, which is mailed out to 30,000 magistrates who belong to ‘The Magistrates Association’. Magistrates were asked to complete the questionnaire, and return it to MORI in a reply-paid envelope. Fieldwork was conducted from 1st June with the final closing date being 23rd July 2003. A total of 5,716 completed questionnaires were returned, giving a 19% response rate.

Interpretation of the data
It should be remembered that this survey is based on a sample, not the entire population of magistrates in England and Wales. In consequence, all results are subject to sampling tolerances, which means that not all differences are statistically significant. When interpreting results, it is important to note that a sample of 5,716 carries a margin of error of around plus or minus one per cent. On a purely random sample, as in all self-completion surveys, there is no way of being sure how representative responses are of the total population. There is likely to be some ‘design effect’ which means that the margin of error is wider than if the sample was totally random. Where percentages do not sum to 100, this may be due to computer rounding, the exclusion of “don’t know” categories, or multiple answers. Throughout the volume an asterisk (*) denotes any value less than half a per cent, but greater than zero. It should be noted that this survey deals with magistrates’ perceptions, rather than facts at the time the survey was conducted, and these may not necessarily accurately reflect the services actually being delivered by The Probation Service.

Acknowledgements
MORI would like to thank George Barrow, Sue Marsh and Gita Sisupalan at the National Probation Directorate, representatives from the Service, the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Magistrate Magazine for their help and assistance in the development of the project. We would also like to extend our thanks to the 5,716 magistrates who took part in the project and without whose help, the survey would not have been possible.

Publication of data
As with all our studies, findings from this survey are subject to our Standard Terms & Conditions of Contract. Any press release or publication of the findings of this survey requires the advance approval of MORI. Such approval would only be refused on the grounds of inaccuracy or misrepresentation.

2

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Summary of Findings
This survey presents a baseline of magistrates’ attitudes towards the Probation Service and includes indicators which should be tracked to measure future progress. The survey has some key implications for future communications to sentencers. Key findings are as follows; • Overall there are some encouraging findings for the Probation Service, which should be communicated both externally and, critically, internally within the Service. Magistrates are generally positive towards the Service and its range of services/activities. Indeed, the overwhelming majority say their Court has a very positive relationship with Probation. In terms of Probation’s perceived impact on reducing crime, the service is rated about as effective as the Courts, with only the police felt to have significantly more impact. Probation is rated above Prison in terms of the effect on reducing the level of crime in an area. Magistrates are more positive towards the impact of Probation than are the general public, reflecting comparatively higher levels of familiarity with the Service. Magistrates typically perceive the Probation Service as effective in its key roles, particularly enforcement, supervision and work around drugrelated offences. They are less positive on how well the Probation Service keeps victims informed, reflecting a lack of awareness about the Service’s activities in this area. Improving communications in the key area of Probation/victim relations emerges as a consistent theme throughout the survey. Encouragingly, magistrates are typically positive towards pre-sentence and specific sentence reports in terms of their usefulness, content and format. Concerns raised by a minority centre around the issues of whether reports should recommend custody in certain cases, and occasionally, the timeliness of delivery of reports. Magistrates appear to be well-informed about the relative advantages of different types of sentence, and are positive towards using both community and custodial sentences for different reasons. Magistrates appear to judge each case on its merits and apply sentences accordingly, not taking into account ‘external factors’ such as prison over-crowding. Indeed the key factors influencing sentencing decisions are formal guidance and training, and level of risk. Evidence of effectiveness of different sentences is not taken into account as often as might be expected. Other findings from the survey suggest that this may be due to an information gap, partly due to the historical lack of formal evidence available: improving communications
3

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

about the proven effectiveness (evidence now available) of different sentences is a recurring priority. • Magistrates have mixed views towards management of compliance. While they feel certain sentences are managed well (such as community rehabilitation or punishment orders), some are not perceived to be well managed (fines), and others they do not know about (licences and drug abstinence orders). Magistrates recommend a series of measures to improve the breach process including speeding up the action process and taking tougher action for non-compliance, including custodial options. Magistrates feel fairly well informed about Probation and say they have a good understanding of its services. Consistent with other MORI research across different sectors, fewer feel that they are consulted. This highlights the need to communicate the findings and action points from any research and consultation back to sentencers (starting with the results from this survey). The most helpful types of communications for magistrates appear to be face-to-face interaction with court clerks, probation officers and other colleagues. There is demand for additional communications: one in three magistrates say they would like more information via open days, contact with Probation staff, and evidence on statistics and outcomes of orders. Magistrates feel fairly well informed about some aspects of Probation, such as community rehabilitation and punishment orders. However, they feel under-informed about a series of subject areas, including individual offenders’ progress and basic skills training for offenders, about which more than seven in ten say they would like to know more. Methods of communication should focus on ‘push’ rather than ‘pull’ approaches. Magistrates say they would prefer to access information in the future via newsletters and articles in ‘The Magistrate’ magazine. Three-quarters of magistrates say they would be certain or very likely to attend a local event on Probation and three in five say they would like to access more training on the work of Probation. Spontaneous suggestions for improving the Probation Service centre around additional resources and improving the public image of the Service (including educating the public about its services and sentencing options). Ashley Ames Nicki Hall

©MORI/18939

4

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Attitudes towards Probation
Impact on level of crime
Magistrates were asked to rate various organisations in terms of their impact on reducing the level of crime, with 1 being no effect and 10 being the greatest effect. In terms of the proportion scoring 9 or 10, magistrates rate the Probation Service third overall out of a list of several options. Unsurprisingly, the Police top the list, with almost a third of magistrates (30%) saying they have a large effect (scoring 9-10). Encouragingly, the Probation Service is ranked on a par with the courts and prisons in terms of the level of effect it is perceived to have.

Relative impact on level of crime
Q Please indicate what effect you think each of the following public service organisations has on reducing the level of crime in an area? % No/Little effect 1-4 Police The Courts Probation Service Prisons Neighbourhood Watch Youth Groups Schools Local Community Groups Social Services
Base: All respondents (5,716)

% 5-8

% Large effect 9-10
58 73 68

% Don’t know
30 2 11 2 9 2

10 15 20 33 32 32 39 37 56

54 58 54 49 47 37 6

9

4 8

6 4 6 5 5 10 2 6
Source: MORI

5

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

When we look at mean scores, Probation lies third overall, as illustrated in the chart below. Magistrates, on average, score Probation as having a bigger impact than prisons, Neighbourhood Watch, youth groups, schools, local community groups and social services.

Impact on level of crime - mean scores
Q Please indicate what effect you think each of the following public service organisations has on reducing the level of crime in an area? Mean scores for perceived effect (between 1-10) Police The Courts Probation Service Prisons Neighbourhood Watch Youth Groups Schools Local Community Groups Social Services
Base: All respondents (5,716)

7.38 6.37 6.1 5.5 5.45 5.38 5.09 5.05 4.16
1 = no effect 10 = large effect Source: MORI

Sub-group differences
In terms of the differences between sub-groups of magistrates, those working in the North-East and in the West Midlands tend to award Probation a higher mean score than their counterparts elsewhere in the country (6.45 and 6.23 respectively).

Ratings in context
The following chart compares magistrates’ views of different agencies’ effect on level of crime with those of the general public, from a survey conducted by MORI for the Probation Service in September 2002. As might be expected, magistrates are more positive than the public towards the impact of Probation; likely linked to greater familiarity with the Service. (MORI research has consistently shown that the more familiar somebody is with a service, then the more positive they tend to be about it.)

6

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Views of magistrates vs general public
Q Please tell me what effect you think each of the following public service organisations has on reducing the level of crime in an area? % No effect 1-4 % 5-8 % Large effect 9-10
68 9

The Probation Service

Magistrates

20

General Public
Base: All respondents (5,716) Base: General Public (1,000) Sept 2002

27

58

3

Source: MORI

7

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Attitudes towards Probation
Overall, magistrates are very positive towards the Probation Service – the positives far outweigh the negatives in the chart below which shows magistrates’ underlying attitudes towards the Probation Service on a number of key factors. Probation is viewed as ‘treating offenders fairly and equally’ by almost nine in ten, and eight in ten say they are prepared to put effort into maintaining good relations with Probation. More than three-quarters say relations between their court and Probation are very positive. Eight in ten magistrates say they would like to see Probation offering new orders, and opinion is finely balanced around whether the orders currently offered are what is needed. This suggests that magistrates would like to see development of new orders in the future.

Attitudes towards the Probation Service
Q To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements? % Disagree The Probation Service actively ensures the fair and equal treatment of offenders I am prepared to put in a lot of effort to ensure good relations with the Probation Service I would like to see Probation developing new orders Relations between my court and the Probation Service are very positive Probation and the courts ultimately share the same goals I trust the Probation Service to deal effectively with offenders The Probation Service provides a consistently good Service I always speak highly of the Probation Service I trust the Probation Service to help protect the community The Probation Service understands what I, as a sentencer, need The Probation orders currently offered are just what I need as a sentencer The service provided is flexible to meet my needs
Base: All respondents (5,716)
37 33

% Agree
3 2 6 8 85 83 82 78 77 64 58 56 51 47 45 41

14 19 23 17 26 29

Source: MORI

Opinion is also more evenly balanced around whether the Probation Service ‘understands’ what sentencers need, and whether the service is flexible enough to meet sentencers’ needs.

8

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Effectiveness in key roles and responsibilities
Overall, magistrates feel Probation is performing well against its main roles and responsibilities. Probation is seen to be most effective at enforcement, supervision and work around drug-related offences. Opinion is more divided around Probation’s performance in ‘protecting the public’ (perhaps not surprising given the top-level nature of the aim) and ‘keeping victims informed’. Keeping victims informed regarding offenders’ progress is a relatively new statutory requirement, and as such magistrates are less likely to be aware of Probation’s progress in this area. Indeed, four in ten (41%) magistrates say they do not know what Probation is doing in this area. This should continue to be a key communications priority and progress should be measured here.

Effectiveness in key roles and responsibilities
Q How effective do you think the Probation Service is at each of the following? % Not effective Enforcing community sentences
17

% Effective
81 81 79 76 75 65 58

Supervising offenders to do unpaid work in the community 14 Working with offenders whose crime is drug related The Rehabilitation of Offenders Assessment of risk of re-offending and harm to public Reducing re-offending The punishment of offenders Supervising people on release from prison Protecting the public Keeping victims of crime informed
Base: All respondents (5,716)

16 21 22

32 37 18 55 40 19 41

54

Source: MORI

9

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Magistrates versus General Public
The following chart illustrates the general public’s perceptions of how Probation is doing against the same set of aims. In line with magistrates, the general public perceive Probation to be performing well in rehabilitation of offenders and supervision of community work. Keeping victims of crime informed scores relatively low for both magistrates and the public.

Roles and responsibilities: the General Public
Q How effective do you think the Probation Service is at each of the following? % Not effective Supervising people on release from prison Supervising offenders to do unpaid work in the community The rehabilitation of offenders Working with offenders whose crime is drug related Enforcing community sentences Reducing re-offending Protecting the public Keeping victims of crime informed The punishment of offenders
Base: General Public (1,000) Sept 2002

% Effective

18 21 27 29 34 45 57 49 55

66 58 56 48 43 41 26 22 20
Source: MORI

The public’s perceptions of how well Probation is doing are directly related to their awareness of Probation’s responsibilities, as the following chart below illustrates.

10

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

In the top right corner of the chart are the aspects of work that the public are aware that Probation is responsible for, and in which they believe Probation is effective (for example supervision). In the bottom left corner are the areas in which the public are less aware that Probation is responsible and which they subsequently rate Probation as less effective (for example punishment). MORI’s research shows that this applies to organisations right across the public and private sectors – increasing familiarity generally leads to greater favourability.

The more likely the public are to associate you with something, the more positive they are
% Net effectiveness of Probation Service on each aspect
50 40 30 20 10 0 -10 -20 -30 -40 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 10 0

Supervising people on release Supervising offenders to do unpaid community work

Enforcing community sentences

Rehabilitating offenders Working with drug offenders

Reducing re-offending Keeping victims of crime informed Punishing offenders Protecting the public

% Aware that PS involved in/responsible
Base: All respondents aged 16+, interviewed by telephone between 27th August - 3rd September Source: MORI 2002 (1,000)

11

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Reports
Pre-Sentence Reports
Overall, magistrates are very positive towards pre-sentence reports (PSRs), with around three-quarters viewing reports as useful overall (74%). Indeed the majority are positive about PSRs on all criteria. The two criteria which attract most negativity are; the provision of background information about offenders’ financial situation or accommodation, and the appropriateness of sentence proposal (although the overall balance of opinion remains positive). Free-written responses to how reports could be improved suggest that this relative negativity around the appropriateness of sentence proposal is related to a perceived lack of suggestions for custody when it might be felt that it is appropriate.

Pre- sentence reports
Q How do you rate the pre-sentence reports that you receive from the Probation Service on each of the following criteria?
% Poor Overall usefulness of pre-sentencing reports in reaching sentencing decisions Analysis of relevant background information The overall quality of pre-sentencing reports The quality and detail of the information about sentencing options Analysis of offence/s Information about offenders’ financial situation 17 and accommodation The appropriateness of proposals for sentence in pre-sentence reports
Base: All respondents (5,716)

% Good

5 6 6 5 8 56 55

74 70 66 66 63

11

Source: MORI

12

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Magistrates are also overwhelmingly positive about the content and format of PSRs. Six in ten agree that PSRs always have good layout and format, and more than four in ten are say that written style and assessment of risk are always ‘clear’. Encouragingly, only relatively small numbers of magistrates say that PSRs rarely or never meet these criteria.

Pre- sentence reports
Q How frequently would you say each of the following statements are true of the of the pre-sentence reports that you see? % Never % Rarely % Sometimes % Always

The format and layout are good The written style is clear Reports are objective A definite assessment of risk is presented Reports are ready on time

*

1 2

38 54 53 44 53 68 45

60 43 39 48 36 21 43
Source: MORI

* 6
* 6 1 8

Proposals for sentencing are 1 8 realistic It is clear what sources of information have been used 1 10
Base: All respondents (5,716)

13

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Over three quarters of magistrates believe the 15 day turnaround policy is appropriate. Opinion is more balanced around whether there should be a report to fill the gap between PSRs and SSRs. Overall, it appears that PSRs are meeting expectations and fulfilling magistrates’ needs in the majority of cases.

Pre- sentence reports
Q How strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements? % Disagree The 15 day turnaround time for 16 pre-sentence reports is appropriate for my needs % Agree
76

It would be useful to have a report which filled the gap between PSR and SSR

25

45

Base: All respondents (5,716)

Source: MORI

14

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Specific Sentence reports
Sentencers are generally positive about specific sentence reports (SSRs), with around nine in ten saying they know when to ask for them, and feel confident using them (94% and 88% respectively). Three quarters say they are usually ready on time. A less positive area is the availability of SSRs – with around one in five magistrates finding SSRs more difficult to get hold of.

Specific sentence reports
Q How strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements? % Disagree I know when to ask for a specific sentence report instead of a pre-sentence report I am confident using specific sentence reports in appropriate cases Specific sentence reports I have requested have been helpful and met my expectations Specific sentence reports are ready on time Specific sentence reports are easily available
Base: All respondents (5,716)

% Agree

2 5 6 10 21
61

94 87 81 74

Source: MORI

15

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Suggestions for Improving reports
Magistrates were asked to make suggestions for improving reports, and their responses are shown in the table below. Top of the list is ‘timing’ – magistrates say they want PSRs and SSRs quicker and on time. However, it should be cited that only relatively small proportions are spontaneously citing this as an issue – the majority in the previous questions were satisfied with the current timelines of reports. Whether reports recommend custody as a sentencing option is also an important issue. Magistrates appear to be of the opinion that custody should be recommended more often in PSRs and SSRs. The full tables provide more detail on the suggestions made by magistrates.
Q Which aspects of pre-sentence and specific sentence reports, if any, would you like to see changed?
n 189 168 160 149 134 127 123 116 109 109 97 3,105 % 3 3 3 3 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 54 Source: MORI

Top 10 mentions Base: All respondents (5,716) PSRs prepared quicker/ready on time/waiting time too long/faster turnaround/speedier reports needed Custody rarely mentioned/recommendation of custody Quicker turnaround time/speedier reports needed Too much emphasis on defendant’s background/confirmation of facts needed SSRs should be more readily available/rarely available SSRs too brief/need to be expanded/more detailed More realistic sentencing conclusion/sentence should fit the crime Less wordy/more concise reports More emphasis on impact of crime on victim/effect of sentence on victims Resources/Probation understaffed/underfunded Personal details/more information on offender’s background/supporting documentation Not stated

16

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

There is some disagreement around whether reports contain enough information or whether they are too lengthy. While some magistrates suggest areas that could be expanded (such as impact of crime and sentence upon victims, others suggest reports are too verbose or place too much emphasis on certain issues such as defendant’s background).

Suggestions for improving reports
Sentence proposal – I have never seen a report propose custody Lay Magistrate, 56-65

Probably the aspect of format - some reports contain convoluted paragraphs which, although providing useful information, are not ‘reader-friendly’. I suggest shorter paragraphs/sentences and even bullet points would give greater clarity, especially taking account of time available for reading Lay Magistrate, 56-65

Custody

Length and clarity

It would help if PSRs were less wordy and more concise Lay Magistrate, 56-65
Source: MORI

17

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Sentencing and Supervision
Part of the survey focused on magistrates’ perceptions of various types of sentences and supervision orders managed by the Probation Service.

Community Sentences
Magistrates are positive towards community sentences as a sentencing option, with more than eight in ten agreeing that community sentences allow offenders to ‘pay something back to the community’ (84%), ‘take offenders’ circumstances into account’ (83%)and are a ‘punishment for offenders’ (82%). Half of magistrates disagree that community sentences are a ‘soft option’ (49%). However, negative views outweigh the positives on issues such as ‘protecting the public’, ‘reducing re-offending’ and ‘deterring crime’. There is perhaps more scope for improving magistrates’ perceptions of the effectiveness of community sentences on helping to reduce re-offending. Other findings from the survey suggest that messages about the effectiveness of some of the Probation Service’s sentences and orders are not getting through to magistrates. There is a gap in knowledge about the work the Service does with victims, about prisoners released on licence as well as around orders and their effectiveness at reducing reoffending. Improving this information will help to increase regard for the sentence and perceptions of effectiveness.

18

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Community Sentences
Q How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements about community sentences? % Disagree Enable offenders to pay something 7 back to the community Take the offender’s circumstances into consideration Are punishment for offenders Help to rehabilitate offenders Ensure fair treatment of all offenders Ensure appropriate assessment of risk Balance between needs of society and offenders Ensure that offenders consider the impact of their offence on victims Are suitable for offenders whose crime is drug-related Help to protect the public Reduce re-offending Are soft options Deter crime Have long term positive impact on society
Base: All respondents (5,716)
49 37 34 24 24 29 33 34 36 31 31 29 29 5 10 12 13 14 56 55 51 50 50 70

% Agree
84 83 82

Source: MORI

19

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Community sentences versus custody
Magistrates were asked about the relative advantages of community versus custodial sentences. Magistrates appear to understand the pros and cons of each type of sentence and cite the relative benefits of each. For example, almost nine in ten agree that a custodial sentence is beneficial for dangerous offenders, while the majority also agree that community sentences have benefits over custodial sentences in other instances. Responses to the survey indicate that magistrates are unlikely to opt for a custodial or community sentence because of external factors. For example, seven in ten magistrates report that they do not take political issues such as the prison overcrowding situation into account, and a similar proportion say they would not be more likely to opt for a custodial sentence if they did not have access to a presentence report.

Community sentences vs custody
Q Recognising that each case needs to be looked at on an individual basis, to what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements? % Disagree Custodial sentences are generally more effective for dangerous offenders Community sentences have benefits over custodial sentences Community sentences are generally more effective for offenders of acquisitive crime due to drug use Custodial sentences are generally more effective for persistent offenders Custodial sentences best option to stop spiraling crime More likely to use community sentences because of the prison 71 overcrowding situation Opt for a custodial sentence if I do 68 not have access to a pre sentence report
51 13 10
Source: MORI

% Agree
88 65 57 52 23

4 10 19 23

Base: All respondents (5,716)

20

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Factors influencing sentencing decisions
Findings in the previous section illustrate the insignificant impact of some external pressures on magistrates’ decision-making are backed up by responses to further questions about how often different factors are taken into account when making a sentencing decision. Around nine in ten magistrates say they always take formal guidance and training, and level of risk into account (91% and 88% respectively). Encouragingly for the Probation Service, a further three-quarters say they always take Probation reports into account. Two in five always take into account the evidence of effectiveness of different sentences with the remainder likely to sometimes takes this into account. Again, this highlights the potential need for more information on effectiveness – perhaps lack of information may explain why this is not taken into account more often. Factors that are taken into account far less frequently include awareness of prison overcrowding (two-thirds rarely or never take this into account) and external influences.

Factors influencing sentencing decisions
Q How frequently do you take each of the following factors into consideration when making a sentencing decision? % Never Formal guidance provided through magistrates’ training, guidelines Level of risk posed by an offender to the community Information from Probation reports Evidence of effectiveness Personal experience and perception of effectiveness Awareness of prison overcrowding External information/influences
Base: All respondents (5,716)

% Rarely

% Sometimes ** 8
* * 10 ** 23 91 88

% Always

76 52 56 39 28

15
4 11 32 22 31 39 27 33

9 4
Source: MORI

Sub-group differences
Younger magistrates (aged 18-45) and those who have been serving for a shorter period of time (0-5 years) are more likely to say they always take formal guidance and training into account (94%). The younger age group are also more likely to say they never take external influences into account (28%).

21

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Managing compliance
Magistrates’ perceptions of how well compliance with various sentences is managed appears to be closely linked to their level of knowledge and understanding of how that order is managed. For example magistrates give high ratings to community rehabilitation and community punishment orders, but relatively lower ratings to tagging, licences, and drug abstinence orders. In fact large numbers of magistrates say they ‘do not know’ how these orders are managed (23%, 37% and 44% respectively). Managing compliance around fines is one key area where magistrates feel more could be done.

Managing compliance
Q How well would you say that offenders’ compliance with the following are managed? % Not well 8
10

Community rehabilitation orders Community punishment orders

% Well 86
85 84 73 62 42 34 32
Source: MORI

Community punishment and rehabilitation orders 9 Drug treatment and testing orders Curfew orders (tagging) Licences (supervision of offenders while on licence) Drug abstinence orders Fines
Base: All respondents (5,716)

14 13 18 17 60

Sub-group differences
Magistrates in the North-East are more likely to say compliance with DTTOs is managed well (82%) compared with their counterparts across the rest of the country. Magistrates in Yorkshire and Humberside are most likely to say compliance with fines is managed well (40% compared to a national average of 32%).

22

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Improving the breach process
Magistrates were asked to make suggestions for improving the breach process, as outlined in the table below. Suggestions centre on taking quicker action and shortening the time period between breach and action, as well as taking tougher action for non-compliance, including custodial options. Other suggestions include greater staffing and resources for Probation for more regular checking, and more feedback to magistrates on history of compliance. The accompanying set of computer tables provide more detail on the suggestions made by magistrates.
Q Given that not all offenders will comply with their orders, in your view, what improvements could be made by Probation or other criminal justice partners to improve the breach enforcement process?
n 573 505 472 279 254 151 149 139 106 100 2,930 % 10 9 8 5 4 3 3 2 2 2 51 Source: MORI

Top 10 mentions Base: All respondents Bring breaches to court more quickly Breaches dealt with more quickly/take action at earliest opportunity More effective punishment/tougher penalties Custodial sentence to punish non-compliance/threat of custody Make it clearer that failure to comply will result in stricter punishment More probation officers/staffing levels Return to court after first breach More help from Probation/regular checking and supervision More information/feedback on compliance Realistic re-sentencing options Not stated

Developments stemming from the new Bill on compliance and custody will need to be clearly communicated to magistrates.

23

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Communication and Consultation
Information and consultation
In our research for other public sector organisations, MORI often finds that organisations tend to score better on ‘informing’ stakeholders than ‘consulting’ them, and this is reflected in the case of Probation. Magistrates are generally very positive about being informed, but more negative about how well they are consulted or listened to about the services provided. For example only one in ten do not feel informed, whereas more than one in three do not feel they are consulted. Regular avenues of consultation – such as research of this type – plays an important role in consulting and engaging target audiences. As with all consultation, the key is to ensure that the findings, and preferably, the key action points from the research/consultation are communicated back to both the respondents themselves and the wider population to whom the implications of the research will have relevance. This feedback is essential to ensure that participants can see the value of their contribution and will help to encourage future co-operation is other research/consultation (whilst providing an ideal opportunity for marketing/promotional activities).

Information and consultation on Probation
Q To what extent you agree or disagree with the following statements? % Disagree The Probation Service keeps me 11 very well informed about its role with the criminal justice system The Probation Service makes sure that I know about new policies and developments that are of interest to me The Probation Service explains 29 how it works with other services The Probation Service listens to my opinion about the Service they provide The Probation Service consults 39 me on Probation policies and strategy
Base: All respondents (5,716)

% Agree
77 77 45 35 26
Source: MORI

11

27

Sub-group differences
Magistrates in the South-West are more likely to disagree that they are consulted (47% disagree) whereas magistrates in the West Midlands are more likely to agree that they are consulted (33% agree).
24

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Understanding of the Probation Service
Understanding of the Probation Service is generally high – magistrates typically feel they understand its relationship with offenders and with courts. Magistrates are less clear on how the Probation Service works with victims. This mirrors the previous findings around the perceived effectiveness of the Service where four in ten magistrates say they are unsure how well Probation is performing on keeping victims of crime informed when serious offenders are released, and reemphasises the need for communications about this area of the Probation Service’s work.

Understanding of the Probation Service
Q To what extent you agree or disagree with the following statements?
% Disagree I understand how the Probation Service works with offenders
2

% Agree
93

I understand how the Probation Service 7 works with courts I understand how the Probation Service works with victims
Base: All respondents (5,716)

84

26

51

Source: MORI

25

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Rating sources of information
Magistrates were asked to rate a series of information sources in terms of their helpfulness. Top of the list come face-to-face methods of communication, e.g. contact with court clerks, probation officers and bench colleagues. This emphasises the importance of these personnel and the need to work towards them being ‘champions’ for the Service. The positive ratings for probation officers are particularly encouraging and should be communicated internally to staff.
Sources of Information
Q How helpful do you find each of the following sources of information relating to Probation for your sentencing work?
% Unhelpful Information from court clerks Knowledgeable Probation officers Adequate information on the background of offenders and how they can be dealt with effectively Information from colleagues on the bench Information from the Magistrates’ Association Training about Probation Personal contact with Probation staff Information on programmes run by the National Probation Service Open days and visits to Probation projects or premises Sentencers’ information held on your bench or in retiring room Court newsletter Other Probation Service information leaflets & material Locally produced newsletter for sentencers Attendance at regular formal bench Probation committee meeting Information on statistics or other evidence of outcomes of orders Information from Probation boards Minutes from a regular formal bench Probation committee Help in promoting orders to the local community (e.g. case studies) Information from the central National Probation Directorate
Base: All respondents (5,716)
6 5 7 10 11 8 6 9 9 14 15 14 22 15 29 22 27 19 31

% Helpful
90 89 88 85 84 82 80 77 72 71 69 61 60 53 52 45 45 44 34

Source: MORI

26

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Three in ten do not find the current information on statistics or other evidence of outcomes of orders helpful. This may explain some of the other findings in the survey which suggest that this evidence is not being used as often as it could be. Although information from the central NPD is not highlighted as helpful as some other sources, this is likely to reflect a general preference for more local sources of information that we see in other areas of research. The key is to continue to communicate messages from the centre via local channels. Magistrates were also asked which information sources they would like to access more often. Magistrates tend to favour face-to-face communications in general (such as open days or personal contact with staff. Tellingly, over a third prioritise more information on statistics or other evidence of outcomes of orders. These findings suggest that magistrates are by no means ‘snowed under’ with information and would find more of the right kinds of information helpful.

Top 5 ‘Would like more information more often via ...’
Q Which of these sources of information would you like access to (more often)? % Would like to know more Open days and visits Personal contact with probation staff Information on programmes run by National Probation Service Information on statistics or other evidence of outcomes of orders Knowledgeable probation officers
Base: All respondents (5,716)

37%

36%

34%

34%

30%
Source: MORI

27

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

What do magistrates want to know more about?
Magistrates highlight particular areas of the Probation Service’s work which they do not feel they have sufficient information. There is particular demand for more information about basic skills programmes for offenders, information about individual offenders’ progress and supervision of prisoners released on licence. Again, these findings show that magistrates are in favour of increased communications about the Probation Service.

Information Needs
Q Which do you feel you know enough about and which would you like to know more about? I would like to know more % Sufficient Information %
67%

Community rehabilitation orders Community punishment orders

30

67%

30

Community punishment and rehabilitation orders Curfew orders How to make a condition of residence at approved premises Drug treatment and testing orders The Home Office national standards governing Probation work The rules of residence and night-time curfews imposed by approved premises Independently accredited programmes that reduce reconviction Work to improve offenders’ basic skills and employment prospects Individual offenders’ progress The Probation Service ’s supervision of prisoners released on licence
Base: All respondents (5,716)
18% 34% 46%

64%

31

61%

34

55%

39

54%

43

46

43%

51

63

29%

65

75 80
Source: MORI

15%

28

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

29

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Methods of communication
In terms of channels of communications, almost half of magistrates prefer push methods such as newsletters or articles in the magistrate (45% each) and relatively few prefer pull factors such as a website which involve more time and commitment to use. Around a third say they prefer events as a means of getting information.

Future communications
Q Through which of the following methods would you most prefer to receive information? % Prefer Newsletters 45%
Articles in The Magistrate Events Leaflets/Brochures A website Letters Emails Articles in other publications Other

45% 34% 19% 18% 8% 1% 1% 2%

None, don’t want information *% Don’t know *%
Base: All respondents (5,716)

Source: MORI

30

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Events and Training
Seven in ten magistrates say they would be either certain or very likely to attend a Probation Service regional event for sentencers (70%).

Regional events
Q If the Probation Service held an annual event in your region to keep sentencers up to date with developments, realistically, how likely or unlikely would you be to attend? Don’t know/not stated Certain not to attend 2% Not very likely to attend 2%
4% 24%

Certain to attend

Fairly likely to attend 23%

45%
Base: All respondents (5,716)

Very likely to attend
Source: MORI

Magistrates who said they would be unlikely to attend were asked their reasons. Top reasons include: • Work commitments, other commitments and personal/family commitments and related comments (18%); Training already adequate/content is not relevant (10%); Not enough time/too busy (9%); and Depends on the convenience of the date (6%).

• • •

Very few express dissatisfaction or negative past experiences as the reasons for not attending (4%).

31

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

In terms of training, magistrates appear to be satisfied with the content of previous training they have received and three in five say they would like more of it.

Training
Q To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements? % Disagree The content of training I receive about Probation is appropriate 23 for my needs % Agree

64

I would like more training events on the work of the Probation Service

17

60

Base: All respondents (5,716)

Source: MORI

32

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Improving the Probation Service
To conclude, magistrates were asked to suggest three key actions to improve the Probation Service. The table below summarises the responses. Suggestions for improvement centre on three issues; resourcing and staffing levels within the Probation Service; emphasis on public relations (improving the public’s understanding of Probation and community sentencing options); and process based issues (such as faster processing of breaches, more sentencing options, closer working between magistrates and Probation). The focus on public relations is interesting, since this is not something that would directly aid magistrates, but clearly something upon which they feel Probation ought to be focussing. Also important are enhanced support for victims and more feedback on effectiveness of orders and programmes. Both of these issues are consistent throughout this survey.
Q Finally, what in your view would be the three key actions that would help to make the Probation Service more effective in protecting the public and reducing crime?
n 991 668 537 354 332 306 301 273 251 240 238 1,695 % 17 12 9 6 6 5 5 5 4 4 4 30 Source: MORI

Top 10 mentions Base: All respondents (5,716) More staff/probation officers/improve recruitment More financial resources Improve public relations/educate the public on role of Probation Improve community programmes/ more resources for community programmes Feedback on successes/effectiveness of programmes/outcome of orders Convince public that community sentences are not a soft option Quicker processing of breach/bring back to court quicker Victim support/more consideration for victim Closer working with magistrates/liaison between officers and bench Firm action where breach occurs More sentencing options Not stated

33

Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

34

Appendices