From the Practitioner’s Perspective: Our lit review’s relevance to probation services

Cassie Newman

In a series of blogs, expert practitioners from the fields of mental health, criminal justice and substance misuse are commenting on the recent Revolving Doors literature review comparing the processes of recovery from mental illness, recovery from addiction and desistance from crime. The blogs reflect on how the findings relate to frontline practice and what people think are the implications for services working on the frontline. This blog is by Cassie Newman, a probation officer by training and Head of Stakeholders and Partnerships at London CRC. 


Reflecting the ‘norm’ of multiple needs in criminal justice practice


When I read the literature review, I was struck by the comments that three such closely aligned subjects have been researched so independently. In probation, it is rare to meet someone shortly after appearing at court who does not have either a substance misuse issue or a mental health concern – even if he or she does not acknowledge it. It therefore seems bizarre that a siloed approach has been taken to researching the subjects of crime, mental health, and substance misuse. However, in my experience, this reflects a similar attitude historically adopted in commissioning substance misuse and mental health services. Substance misuse services have previously been commissioned to treat drug addiction in isolation rather than also to tackle the associated mental health concerns.


Addressing individual service user needs


It’s good to see that things are changing and I’m excited to see that there is scope for services that are designed around service users’ primary needs. Recently I have seen evidence of integrated commissioning strategies which acknowledge that not all mental health service users need the same interventions and that aim to: a) put the service user at the centre of service delivery and b) commission services on the basis of individual need.

As probation practitioners, it’s vital that we identify the personal rehabilitation needs of individual ex-offenders. Even more challenging is understanding the complexity of the services that are available to address these needs and to work collaboratively with the providers to ensure individuals get the support they need.


Addressing multiple needs


The literature review also looked at the varying approaches to rehabilitation used for substance misuse, mental health and offending issues. A large percentage of London Community Rehabilitation Company’s (CRC) service users have multiple rehabilitation needs and, as a result, they need a number of different interventions. The key is to ensure the interventions are sequenced appropriately and delivered at the right time in the service user’s rehabilitation ‘journey’, and acknowledging that they might be on several different journeys. In conjunction with their service users, Probation Officers also need to set realistic sentence plans that reflect the different success metrics for individual rehabilitation interventions.


Service user engagement


The literature review also discusses the benefit of listening to “lived experience”. London CRC operates a number of service user engagement initiatives: we have worked with User Voice (a charity led by people who have experienced the criminal justice system) for a number of years. The CRC engages User Voice to use their experience of the criminal justice system to help us develop and improve how we deliver our services to the ex-offenders we work with. We hold monthly surgeries with User Voice representatives to generate quarterly proposals that are implemented both locally and across the organisation.

London CRC also employs 12 Probation Engagement Workers. These are individuals who themselves have previously been subject to probation supervision or in prison. They engage particularly well with service users who are more resistant to working with us. This helps improve service user engagement and helps service users make positive changes in their lives.

Finally, the CRC holds an annual staff and service users awards ceremony to formally recognise the achievements of service users alongside its own staff. This helps reinforce a sense of service user engagement.

It’s clear from the literature review that engagement activities such as these can be particularly effective in supporting service user rehabilitation. London CRC remains committed to service user engagement and we will therefore continue to build on these initiatives.


About me


I work in London CRC’s Rehabilitation, Partnerships and Stakeholders Directorate as a Head of Stakeholders and Partnerships. I am responsible for eight London boroughs and the relationships with partners and stakeholders within them, including the police, Community Safety Partnerships, Safeguarding Boards, the voluntary sector, public health departments and relevant commissioners. As well as managing existing partner relationships, I also proactively identify new opportunities for joint working and co-commissioning of services that deliver tangible reductions in re-offending.

Prior to this role, I was London CRC’s Assistant Chief Officer (ACO) for Barnet and Brent for almost a year and I was in in Lambeth, Merton and Sutton as an ACO before that.. I also have experience at practitioner and middle manager level in several London boroughs since my career started as a Trainee Probation Officer over 10 years ago.


About London CRC


London Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) is responsible for the management and assessment of low and medium risk of harm offenders who are serving a sentence either in custody or the community.  At any one time, we are responsible for around 25,000 people. We manage male and female offenders from 18 years of age, covering a range of offences from drink-driving through to violent offences such as common assault.