Probation services “need to improve”

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Probation services "need to improve"

The National Probation Service (NPS) was supervising people who posed a higher risk reasonably well, but the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) needed to do far more to protect the public and reduce reoffending, said Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation. Today she published the report of a recent inspection of probation work in Northamptonshire.

The inspection looked at the quality of probation work carried out by the CRC and the NPS and assessed the effectiveness of work undertaken locally with people who have committed crimes. This was the first inspection of adult probation work undertaken by a CRC owned by Sodexo Justice Services, in partnership with Nacro.

Overall, the work of the CRC in Northamptonshire was not good enough. The CRC was not sufficiently focused on public protection. Too many cases were assigned to staff without the skills and support needed to investigate and respond to the risk of harm an individual posed. There was a lack of oversight and quality assurance. Work to reduce reoffending was poor. Responsible officers did too little to understand what led to offending behaviour and therefore couldn’t put plans in place to turn people’s lives around.

Sodexo has an innovative operating model for all of its CRCs, designed to fully engage people who have committed crimes and address their readiness to change. Inspectors were concerned, however, at the lack of privacy in open booths used for confidential interviews, and at the prospect that some people would be supervised solely by telephone contact or biometric reporting. Without meaningful contact, people are less likely to develop the will to change their attitudes and behaviour.

The model is not fully implemented in Northamptonshire and some systems are not yet in place, mainly because the necessary IT gateway that will allow for critical information to be shared is still not available.  This has led to staff being unclear about key processes and some programmes designed to help people change their behaviour and attitudes being under used.

Generally the NPS’s work to protect the public was good, and they worked effectively with the police. Their work to reduce reoffending was acceptable, but more could be done on tackling substance misuse. The NPS did not always provide the CRC with enough information at the beginning of sentences, causing extra work for the CRC in order to be able to manage its cases effectively.

Inspectors made recommendations which included the CRC and NPS working together more effectively to give individuals timely access to programmes, including Through the Gate services. The CRC should ensure senior probation officers have the capacity to oversee their teams effectively, responsible officers have access to available guidance and officers manage cases appropriate to their skills and knowledge. The NPS should improve the quality of pre-sentence reports. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) should implement the Strategic Partner Gateway at the earliest opportunity to support the implementation of new CRC operating models.

Dame Glenys Stacey said:

We found that the CRC’s work was simply not good enough. Too little is being done to reduce the risk of someone committing a further offence, or to minimise risk to the public. Local leaders are committed, but stretched, and don’t have a good enough grasp on the quality of work actually being delivered to turn people away from crime.

“Like some others, Sodexo’s efforts to bring in new ways of working have faltered, causing real problems for staff and for those being managed by probation services alike. Sodexo’s proposed model has some promising and innovative features, but I remain concerned about any model that provides for those under probation supervision to be seen rarely, if at all.

“The public can be assured that the NPS are managing high risk cases well overall, but I was disappointed to see that the quality of work varied across the area. We have found this elsewhere, and the NPS now has the opportunity to make sure offices perform consistently well in future.”

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