The Victims Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird (VC) and the Chief Probation Officer, Sonia Flynn (CPO) met to discuss the treatment of victims within the Victim Contact Scheme (VCS).

Victim Contact Scheme

The meeting followed the VC sending the Director General for the Probation Service a letter setting out her views on how the VCS should be developed as part of the Probation Reform Programme[1]. Her proposals included:

  • co-location of victim liaison officers (VLO) and victim support workers;
  • professional qualifications and continuous development for VLOs;
  • capacity to trace victims who had not opted in to the VCS at the point when their offender is approaching release;
  • sharing more information with victims so that they have a better understanding of the process; and
  • creating a separate identity for the VCS so that it is not viewed by victims as an adjunct to offender management.

The VC and the CPO both saw benefits on the co-location of Victim Liaison Officers (VLOs) and victim support workers so that victims received both the practical and emotional support they needed when engaging with VLOs. This would offer a seamless service and would enhance victim engagement.

The CPO informed the VC that recent pilots where the VCS contacted victims directly and invited them to join as opposed to approaching them through other agencies were proving to be a great success, with opt-in rates increasing. The VC welcomed this and looked forward to the pilots being rolled out.

The VC had previously called for the annual contact letter to be reviewed and victims provided with more information, particularly in respect of updating victims when the offender has been re-categorised. The CPO informed her this work was now complete and the revised letters would include information on recategorization. Again, the VC welcomed this.

The VC was keen to be involved in any review of the VCS as part of the Probation Reform Programme.

MAPPA Supervision of High Risk Domestic Abuse Perpetrators

The VC valued a recent meeting with officials in the National Probation Service to discuss the extent to which high risk offenders of domestic abuse can be managed under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA). She welcomed the fact that the MAPPA guidance MAPPA guidance has been amended specifically to mention domestic abuse as grounds for referral and she also welcomed the recently published policy framework addressing victim safety planning. This work could potentially enhance the safeguarding of victims of domestic abuse.

Pre-Sentence Reports

The VC has arranged to meet officials leading on female offender policy. She was concerned many female offenders were also victims domestic abuse, coercive control and/or criminal and sexual exploitation. It was unclear the extent to which this was being picked up by sentencers and used in mitigation when determining whether a custodial sentence was appropriate. She was keen to learn the extent to which pre-sentence reports were being prepared and how those writing them were trained to ask about and identify trauma.

The CPO advised that the use of pre-sentence reports had reduced over the past six years and there was a real commitment to reverse this. The NPS is looking to pilot a new scheme in taking this forward. This “front end” work is critical.

Victim Engagement with Parole

The VC raised concern that parole panels were only seeing Victim Personal Statements in around 40% of cases. This implied many victims were outside the VCS and were not being given the opportunity to request licence conditions. The CPO advised her this is one of the issues being considered under the Probation Reform Programme. They were considering how police and MAPPA panels might be engaged to help track victims in non-recent cases to invite them to opt into the scheme. They are looking to build the capacity within the VCS to undertake this work on a routine basis.

Victim Contact During Lockdown 

Throughout lockdown, face-to-face contact with victims was not possible and the VCS looked to make use of remote contact as an alternative. This has served its purpose, but the CPO recognises the value of face to face contact. As they planned the recovery of the service, the VCS was looking to initiate face to face contact in more cases, maybe seeking to use meeting rooms in victim hubs.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/strengthening-probation-building-confidence

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