Interrupting cycles of reoffending – through trusted partnerships

How can we effectively interrupt cycles of repeat offending and in doing so create spaces where appropriate interventions can be co-ordinated by the Probation Service and other partners including the Voluntary and Community Sector?


Working with Probation

People who repeatedly cycle through the criminal justice system (CJS) are often identifiable as having multiple complex needs. Many have repeated contact with the police, courts, prison, and the Probation Service.  This can present acute challenges for people who may be homeless, use substances and experience poor mental health, as, due to the instability in their lives and the stigma they often face in services, they find it difficult to get the support they need.

By working closely with Probation colleagues throughout the lifetime of the project, Fulfilling Lives workers were able to evidence three key areas where creative and flexible partnership working helped to facilitate smoother transitions and longer intervals of consistent support in the community for clients. The areas focussed on in the Creative Practice report were:

1) flexible approaches around breaches allowing access to healthcare and housing interventions,

2) co-ordinated pre-release planning through prison in-reach and meeting clients at the gate, and

3) trauma and psychologically informed approaches to working.

Trusting Relationships are Key

Developing creative and flexible approaches to supporting clients with multiple complex needs requires professionals to establish relationships built on trust. Trust in others’ knowledge and expertise, and trust in others’ professional judgement. It is when we have created these trusting relationships that we can start to bring more creative thinking on how best we can work together to provide support to clients with multiple complex needs to ensure the client has the best opportunity for a positive outcome.  This flexibility around breach for Fulfilling Lives clients was predicated on Probation Officers and Fulfilling Lives frontline workers having professional relationships based on trust in one another’s area of expertise.

To Breach or not to Breach (that is the question?)

This can be a difficult decision for Probation Officers to make. In our report, we identified several examples where Probation Officers took thoughtful and considered approaches when working with Fulfilling Lives clients, striking a balance between providing support, as well as ensuring compliance with the relevant licence conditions/order requirements. The use of professional judgement from Probation Officers to not breach some individuals and take a more person-centred approach has had positive outcomes. Allowing clients’ relationships with community support services to remain more stable, bringing continuity of support and space to follow through on planned or preventative interventions to reduce reoffending and break the cyclical nature of imprisonment.

When Trusting Relationships Lead to Good Modelling

Fulfilling Lives and Probation jointly supporting clients within a framework of trauma informed practice has enabled both services to reflect similar therapeutic approaches when considering compliance to licence conditions. Fulfilling Lives workers were able to focus on building trusting relationships with clients who have experienced complex trauma and who are typically regarded as hard to reach or who are experiencing multiple and long-term barriers to treatment and appropriate support, leading to improved engagement and outcomes. It has been encouraging to see that this level of insight has also been demonstrated by some Probation colleagues enabling creative, trauma informed work to take place. Again, we can see that this flexible approach to compliance comes from a place of professional relationships based on mutual trust. Probation being able to trust Fulfilling Lives workers to fulfil aspects of the licence requirements requires a level of trust in each other’s expertise and judgement, ultimately resulting in a more positive outcome for the client.

Fulfilling Lives South East View

As workers supporting clients in the CJS we need to be continually asking ourselves how we can work in a more flexible way to achieve better outcomes for clients with multiple complex needs.

Trust between professionals to take positive risks is an important aspect of flexible working to achieve better outcomes for the client. When you trust professional colleagues, you have confidence in their integrity and their abilities, and their agenda and capabilities. Ultimately trust creates spaces where ideas can be shared and developed and resistance to change can be overcome. This has applied to both the approach taken by Fulfilling Lives as well as that of Probation. The kind of trust that was established between Fulfilling Lives and Probation Officers took time and effort to develop.

The challenge will be how can we create opportunities for greater partnership working, exposure to specialist training, creative interventions and reflective spaces within already stretched teams that are supporting increasing numbers of clients with complex needs.

The solution must be to take a broader, system-wide perspective and draw on resources outside as well as inside Probation services. By strengthening partnership working, we can hope to build greater capacity in the system to support individuals more effectively and ultimately enable more individuals to move away from cycles of reoffending.


Authors: Alan Wallace, Sandra Sylvester

Should you wish to find out more about our partnership work or our systems change efforts, please contact:

Alan Wallace, Systems Change Officer: alan.wallace@sefulfillinglives.org.uk

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