The VC and Director had a routine meeting on 12 February.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Chief Probation Officer explained changes to the management structure within HMPPS. Jo Farrar had been appointed to replace Michael Spurr as CEO of HMPPS. The changeover would take place on 1 April.
In addition, two new Director General posts had been created, one for prisons and one for probation. The DGs would support the new CEO. Amy Rees has been appointed interim DG for Probation and Phil Copple interim DG for prisons. There was a date in the diary for the VC to meet with Amy Rees.
Victims of Mentally Disordered Offenders
At their last meeting, the VC and the Chief Probation Officer had a detailed discussion about the recommendations made by the VC report into support given to victims of mentally disordered offenders (MDOs). The recommendations for the Victim Contact Scheme (VCS) included facilitating victims having the opportunity to submit representations and appearing before the panel, and victims of unrestricted patients to be given a Victim Liaison Officer (VLO). The VC had also asked that some VLOs specialise on the mental health process, so that they could offer victims a more informed service.
The Chief Probation Officer advised the VC that they had put in place plans to identify VLOs who would lead on looking after victims of MDO. They would receive specialist training in the mental health review process, so that they would become subject matter experts. The Chief Probation Officer agreed that victims often struggled to understand the mental health system and so did VLOs. It was important that victims were being advised by a member of staff who had a good understanding of how the process worked.
HMPPS were looking into how to provide victims of unrestricted MDOs with a VLO and were in discussion with the Department of Health about how to make it happen. The Chief Probation Officer would keep the VC updated.
HMPPS had also met with Tribunal judges to discuss victim participation within the Tribunal process. These meetings were making some progress. HMPPS were planning to meet with judges from the Scottish Tribunal to hear about how they engaged with victims face to face.
The VC very much welcomed all of these developments. They were very positive and she asked to be kept informed of further progress.
VLOs and Victim Hubs
In her response to the Government’s consultation on parole decision making, the VC called for the VCS to operate more as a support service for victims as opposed to simply providing transactional service. She suggested the piloting of placing VLOs in victim hubs so that staff they integrated with colleagues in victim support services; this would offer the opportunity of a more seamless transition for victims into the VCS following the trial. In the Government response there was a commitment to explore this further.
The Chief Probation Officer reported back that the co-location pilots were up and running in Manchester, Wigan and Bury. The VC asked if she could visit a co-location hub to see first-hand how well it was working. The Chief Probation Officer welcomed this suggestion and HMPPS will liaise with the Office of the Victims’ Commissioner to make the arrangements.
Changes to the Parole Process
The Government consultation on the parole re-consideration mechanism had now reported back. Plans for a parole decision reconsideration mechanism had been finalised and were due to start later in the year.
The VC welcomed the fact that victims would be able to challenge a parole decision but was concerned that victims should be properly informed on how the process worked and be given sufficient time to make their application. She was aware the Parole Board was committed to sending victims high level summary of reasons for parole decisions within 7 days, which would give them just 14 days in which to seek a reconsideration. The timelines were tight and it was important that they were adhered to.
The VC and Chief Probation Officer discussed plans to train VLOs on the new process and how to explain the legal threshold needing to be met before a case could be reconsidered. It was important that VLOs should be able to offer victims informed advice. Inevitably, some victims would be disappointed if their request is refused, but managing expectations and giving full explanations would help them to understand the reasons why.
The Government review had accepted that the criteria for discretionary access to the VCS ought to be reviewed. The VC had been consulted on the proposed changes to in respect of discretionary access and was of the view that the changes were comprehensive and therefore, to be welcomed.
At their last meeting, the VC asked about the extent to which the changes could be applied retrospectively. The Chief Probation Officer confirmed that they were looking into this and talking to the police.
At the previous meeting, the VC raised the issue of victims in the VCS not being informed in the annual updates about when offenders had been re-categorised. Current guidance does not recognise such transfers as being a “significant development”. This had come to light when a victim found that the offender had been moved from Cat A to Cat C only when there was a parole review.
The Chief Probation Officer promised to look into this and report back. She now advised that they were exploring the possibility of informing the victim of the prisoner’s current security category as part of the annual update. It was recognised that the status might change several times over the course of a year but it would not be feasible to inform the victim each time a change occurs. However, the annual update would provide victims with a snapshot.
Again, the VC welcomed this development.
Disclosure of Serious Further Offence Reviews (SFOs)
The VC and HMPPS had been liaising on making SFO Reviews disclosable for victims. Staff writing the reviews had now been trained and the new process was in place.
HMPPS were planning a half day training event for National Probation Service senior managers, to train them in explaining the contents of the reports to victims. The Chief Probation Officer invited the VC to speak at the event and she confirmed she would be delighted to do so.
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