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Magistrates’ Perceptions of

the Probation Service

Research Study Conducted for


The National Probation Service

June-July 2003
Contents
Introduction 1
Summary of Findings 3
Attitudes towards Probation 5
Im pacton levelofcrim e 5
Attitudes towards Probation 8
Effectivenessin key rolesand responsibilities 9
M agistratesversusGeneralPublic 10
Reports 12
Pre-Sentence Reports 12
Specific Sentence reports 15
SuggestionsforIm proving reports 16
Sentencing and Supervision 18
Com m unity Sentences 18
Com m unity sentences versuscustody 20
Factors influencing sentencing decisions 21
M anaging com pliance 22
Im proving the breach process 23
Communication and Consultation 24
Inform ation and consultation 24
Understanding ofthe Probation Service 25
W hatdo m agistrates wantto know m ore about? 28
M ethodsofcom m unication 30
Events and Training 31
Improving the Probation Service 33

Appendices
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.

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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.

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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 drug-
related 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

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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).

©MORI/18939 Ashley Ames


Nicki Hall

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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 % 5-8 % Large effect % Don’t


effect 1-4 9-10 know
Police 10 58 30 2
The Courts 15 73 11 2
Probation Service 20 68 9 2
Prisons 33 54 9 4
Neighbourhood Watch 32 58 6 4
Youth Groups 32 54 6 8
Schools 39 49 6 5
Local Community Groups 37 47 5 10
Social Services 56 37 2 6
Base: All respondents (5,716) Source: MORI

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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 7.38
The Courts 6.37
Probation Service 6.1
Prisons 5.5
Neighbourhood Watch 5.45
Youth Groups 5.38
Schools 5.09
Local Community Groups 5.05 1 = no effect
10 = large effect
Social Services 4.16

Base: All respondents (5,716) 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.)

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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 % 5-8 % Large effect


The Probation Service 1-4 9-10

Magistrates 20 68 9

General Public 27 58 3

Base: All respondents (5,716)


Base: General Public (1,000) Sept 2002 Source: MORI

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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 % Agree
The Probation Service actively ensures the fair 3 85
and equal treatment of offenders
I am prepared to put in a lot of effort to ensure 2 83
good relations with the Probation Service
I would like to see Probation developing new orders 6 82

Relations between my court and the Probation 8 78


Service are very positive
Probation and the courts ultimately share 14 77
the same goals
I trust the Probation Service to deal effectively 19 64
with offenders

The Probation Service provides a consistently 23 58


good Service
I always speak highly of the Probation 17 56
Service
I trust the Probation Service to help protect the 26 51
community
The Probation Service understands what I, 29 47
as a sentencer, need
The Probation orders currently offered are just 37 45
what I need as a sentencer
The service provided is flexible to meet my 33 41
needs

Base: All respondents (5,716) 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.

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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 % Effective
Enforcing community sentences 17 81

Supervising offenders to do unpaid work in the community 14 81

Working with offenders whose crime is drug related 16 79

The Rehabilitation of Offenders 21 76

Assessment of risk of re-offending and harm to public 22 75

Reducing re-offending 32 65

The punishment of offenders 37 58

Supervising people on release from prison 18 54

Protecting the public 55 41

Keeping victims of crime informed 40 19

Base: All respondents (5,716) Source: MORI

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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 % Effective


Supervising people on release from prison 18 66
Supervising offenders to do unpaid work in the 21 58
community
The rehabilitation of offenders 27 56
Working with offenders whose crime is drug 29 48
related
Enforcing community sentences 34 43
Reducing re-offending 45 41
Protecting the public 57 26
Keeping victims of crime informed 49 22
The punishment of offenders 55 20
Base: General Public (1,000) Sept 2002 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.

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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
Supervising people on release
40
Supervising offenders to do unpaid
30 community work
Rehabilitating
offenders
20
Working with
10
drug offenders
Enforcing community sentences
0

-10 Reducing re-offending

-20
Keeping victims of crime informed
-30 Protecting the public
Punishing offenders
-40
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 10 0
% Aware that PS involved in/responsible
Base: All respondents aged 16+, interviewed by telephone between 27th August - 3rd September
2002 (1,000) Source: MORI

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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 % Good
Overall usefulness of pre-sentencing reports in 5 74
reaching sentencing decisions
Analysis of relevant background information 6 70

The overall quality of pre-sentencing reports 6 66

The quality and detail of the information 5 66


about sentencing options

Analysis of offence/s 8 63

Information about offenders’ financial situation 17 56


and accommodation
The appropriateness of proposals for 11 55
sentence in pre-sentence reports

Base: All respondents (5,716) Source: MORI

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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 1 38 60


*
The written style is clear 2 54 43

Reports are objective * 6 53 39

A definite assessment of risk * 6 44 48


is presented

Reports are ready on time 1 8 53 36

Proposals for sentencing are 1 8 68 21


realistic
It is clear what sources of
information have been used 1 10 45 43

Base: All respondents (5,716) Source: MORI

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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 % Agree

The 15 day turnaround time for


pre-sentence reports is 16 76
appropriate for my needs

It would be useful to have a


report which filled the gap 25 45
between PSR and SSR

Base: All respondents (5,716) Source: MORI

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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 % Agree

I know when to ask for a specific sentence 2 94


report instead of a pre-sentence report
I am confident using specific sentence reports 5 87
in appropriate cases

Specific sentence reports I have requested 6 81


have been helpful and met my expectations

Specific sentence reports are ready on 10 74


time
Specific sentence reports are easily
available 21 61

Base: All respondents (5,716) Source: MORI

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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?
Top 10 mentions
Base: All respondents (5,716) n %
PSRs prepared quicker/ready on time/waiting time too 189 3
long/faster turnaround/speedier reports needed
Custody rarely mentioned/recommendation of custody 168 3
Quicker turnaround time/speedier reports needed 160 3
Too much emphasis on defendant’s background/confirmation 149 3
of facts needed
SSRs should be more readily available/rarely available 134 2
SSRs too brief/need to be expanded/more detailed 127 2
More realistic sentencing conclusion/sentence should fit the 123 2
crime
Less wordy/more concise reports 116 2
More emphasis on impact of crime on victim/effect of 109 2
sentence on victims
Resources/Probation understaffed/underfunded 109 2
Personal details/more information on offender’s 97 2
background/supporting documentation
Not stated 3,105 54
Source: MORI

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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 Custody
shorter paragraphs/sentences
and even bullet points would give greater
clarity, especially taking account of time
available for reading
Lay Magistrate, 56-65

It would help if PSRs were less


Length and wordy and more concise
clarity Lay Magistrate, 56-65

Source: MORI

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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 re-
offending. Improving this information will help to increase regard for the
sentence and perceptions of effectiveness.

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Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

Community Sentences

Q How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements


about community sentences?

% Disagree % Agree
Enable offenders to pay something 7 84
back to the community
Take the offender’s circumstances 5 83
into consideration

Are punishment for offenders 10 82

Help to rehabilitate offenders 12 70

13 56
Ensure fair treatment of all offenders

Ensure appropriate assessment of risk 14 55

Balance between needs of society 24 51


and offenders
Ensure that offenders consider the 24 50
impact of their offence on victims
Are suitable for offenders whose 29 50
crime is drug-related

Help to protect the public 33 36

Reduce re-offending 34 31

Are soft options 49 31

Deter crime 37 29

Have long term positive impact on 34 29


society

Base: All respondents (5,716) Source: MORI

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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 pre-
sentence 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 % Agree
Custodial sentences are generally 4 88
more effective for dangerous offenders
Community sentences have benefits 10 65
over custodial sentences
Community sentences are generally more
effective for offenders of acquisitive crime 19 57
due to drug use
Custodial sentences are generally more 23 52
effective for persistent offenders
Custodial sentences best option to 51 23
stop spiraling crime
More likely to use community
sentences because of the prison 71 13
overcrowding situation
Opt for a custodial sentence if I do 68 10
not have access to a pre sentence
report
Base: All respondents (5,716) Source: MORI

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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 % Rarely % Sometimes % Always


Formal guidance provided through ** 8 91
magistrates’ training, guidelines
Level of risk posed by an offender to * 10
* 88
the community
Information from Probation reports ** 23 76

Evidence of effectiveness 15 52 39

Personal experience and perception 4 11 56 28


of effectiveness
Awareness of prison overcrowding 32 31 27 9

External information/influences 22 39 33 4

Base: All respondents (5,716) 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%).

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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 % Well
Community rehabilitation orders 8 86

Community punishment orders 10 85

Community punishment and rehabilitation orders 9 84

Drug treatment and testing orders 14 73

Curfew orders (tagging) 13 62


Licences (supervision of offenders while on 18 42
licence)
Drug abstinence orders 17 34

Fines 60 32

Base: All respondents (5,716) Source: MORI

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%).

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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?
Top 10 mentions
Base: All respondents n %
Bring breaches to court more quickly 573 10
Breaches dealt with more quickly/take action at earliest 505 9
opportunity
More effective punishment/tougher penalties 472 8
Custodial sentence to punish non-compliance/threat of 279 5
custody
Make it clearer that failure to comply will result in stricter 254 4
punishment
More probation officers/staffing levels 151 3
Return to court after first breach 149 3
More help from Probation/regular checking and 139 2
supervision
More information/feedback on compliance 106 2
Realistic re-sentencing options 100 2
Not stated 2,930 51
Source: MORI

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 % Agree
The Probation Service keeps me
very well informed about its role 11 77
with the criminal justice system
The Probation Service makes sure
that I know about new policies and 11 77
developments that are of interest
to me
The Probation Service explains 29 45
how it works with other services

The Probation Service listens to 27 35


my opinion about the Service
they provide
The Probation Service consults 39 26
me on Probation policies and
strategy
Base: All respondents (5,716) Source: MORI

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 re-
emphasises 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 % Agree
I understand how the Probation 2 93
Service works with offenders

I understand how the Probation Service 7 84


works with courts

I understand how the Probation 26 51


Service works with victims

Base: All respondents (5,716) 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 % Helpful
Information from court clerks 6 90

Knowledgeable Probation officers 5 89

Adequate information on the background of 7 88


offenders and how they can be dealt with
effectively
10 85
Information from colleagues on the bench
Information from the Magistrates’ Association 11 84

Training about Probation 8 82

Personal contact with Probation staff 6 80

Information on programmes run by the 9 77


National Probation Service
Open days and visits to Probation projects or 9 72
premises
Sentencers’ information held on your bench 14 71
or in retiring room
Court newsletter 15 69

Other Probation Service information 14 61


leaflets & material
Locally produced newsletter for sentencers 22 60

Attendance at regular formal bench 15 53


Probation committee meeting
Information on statistics or other 29 52
evidence of outcomes of orders
Information from Probation boards 22 45

Minutes from a regular formal bench


Probation committee 27 45

Help in promoting orders to the local 19 44


community (e.g. case studies)
Information from the central National 31 34
Probation Directorate

Base: All respondents (5,716) 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 37%

Personal contact with probation 36%


staff

Information on programmes run 34%


by National Probation Service

Information on statistics or other 34%


evidence of outcomes of orders

Knowledgeable probation 30%


officers

Base: All respondents (5,716) 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
% Sufficient Information know more
%
Community rehabilitation 67% 30
orders

Community punishment 67% 30


orders

Community punishment and


rehabilitation orders 64% 31

Curfew orders 61% 34

How to make a condition of


residence at approved 55% 39
premises

Drug treatment and testing 54% 43


orders

The Home Office national 46%


standards governing 46
Probation work
The rules of residence and
43%
night-time curfews imposed 51
by approved premises
Independently accredited 34%
programmes that reduce 63
reconviction
Work to improve offenders’ 29%
basic skills and employment 65
prospects
18%
Individual offenders’ progress 75

The Probation Service ’s


supervision of prisoners 15% 80
released on licence
Base: All respondents (5,716) Source: MORI

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 45%
Events 34%
Leaflets/Brochures 19%
A website 18%
Letters 8%
Emails 1%
Articles in other publications 1%
Other 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%
Certain to attend
24%

Fairly likely to attend 23%

45% Very likely to attend


Base: All respondents (5,716) 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 % Agree

The content of training I receive


about Probation is appropriate 23 64
for my needs

I would like more training


events on the work of the 17 60
Probation Service

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?
Top 10 mentions
Base: All respondents (5,716) n %
More staff/probation officers/improve recruitment 991 17
More financial resources 668 12
Improve public relations/educate the public on role of Probation 537 9
Improve community programmes/ more resources for 354 6
community programmes
Feedback on successes/effectiveness of programmes/outcome of 332 6
orders
Convince public that community sentences are not a soft option 306 5
Quicker processing of breach/bring back to court quicker 301 5
Victim support/more consideration for victim 273 5
Closer working with magistrates/liaison between officers and 251 4
bench
Firm action where breach occurs 240 4
More sentencing options 238 4
Not stated 1,695 30
Source: MORI

33
Magistrates’ Perceptions of the Probation Service

34
Appendices