On Tuesday 17th May, Jonathan Ledger of NAPO and Mathew Lay of UNISON gave their evidence to the House of Commons Justice Affairs Committee. Unfortunately there is no video available due to a failure to switch the cameras on, but a transcript of uncorrected evidence can be found here.
It will be appreciated that this enquiry into the Role of the Probation Service comes at a critical time and offers a real opportunity to influence key decision makers. In addition to all the uncertainty over contestability, reduction in funding, public confidence in sentence enforcement, and the future of training, there are also major issues connected to workload, face-to-face client time, stress, sickness and morale. An absolutely key factor in all the latter issues is OASys, the Offender Assessment System.
So when asked about OASys, this was the golden opportunity for the unions to tell the committee 'how it is.' This is what they said in response to a question from Claire Perry:-
Matthew Lay: There is a lot of support for OASys from practitioners, and we have had dialogue in the past about whether that could be made more user-friendly and some of the processes could be adapted to make it more streamlined. But I think there is generally support, particularly amongst our members, for the concept of OASys and what it delivers in terms of effective risk management and analysis of that risk.
Jonathan Ledger: I think this has already probably been said to you, but using it is quite cumbersome for staff. That is certainly the message we get. I would have to be frank with you. Within my union, there is quite a divided opinion about the value of OASys. Sometimes it is a generational view, it has to be said, where the debate takes place; those who have grown up with it more probably like it more. It has value in terms of what it sets out to do in terms of risk management and assessment, which is fine. But the process by which it is used, the time it takes and certainly where it is encountered electronically has been cumbersome. Again, that links into those familiar statistics you have about the amount of facetoface time staff have with offenders.
Jonathan Ledger: We touched on this earlier with the discussion about OASys. We said it does provide the basis of something that does that job. But, again, it has a bureaucratic impact which affects the amount of time, and then this goes back to your earlier question about the amount of face-to-face time people can spend with those they are supervising. Every day, individually, people and the individual team level local managers are making decisions about where to prioritise time and focus. A lot of people have been very concerned that a sort of "tick box" approach to people coming in for supervision is not acceptable, but workload pressures sometimes created that situation. We do not support that. We think that is an indictment of some of the pressures on the service.
So there we have it from the Unions involved. OASys is not very 'user-friendly' could be 'streamlined' is 'quite cumbersome' has a 'bureaucratic effect' oh and divides opinion on 'generational' lines LOL.
Later in Jonathan Ledger's evidence he confesses that he's been away from front-line practice for some considerable time. I'd like to make a serious suggestion to Jonathan, Mathew and all members of the Justice Affairs Committee and it's this. Arrange to visit a probation office and sit in on a first client interview in order to complete an OASys assessment, preferably for the purpose of writing a Standard Delivery Report.
I must stress that it is vital that the whole 'brain numbing' process is observed from start to finish in order to get a true and proper feel as to just how useful and effective a tool OASys is. I think this just might demonstrate why there are serious issues with morale, workloads, stress and sickness levels in the Probation Service.