Howard League blog · 2 Nov 2018
One last restructuring that probation staff would welcome
The Chief Inspector of Probation has just published the first in a series of inspections she is carrying out on the National Probation Service.
The South West South Central division of the National Probation Service, supervising almost 13,000 people from Berkshire to Cornwall, was found by inspectors to be performing to a good standard overall and was effectively led with robust systems to monitor performance.
Contrast this with a series of damning inspection reports on the privatised community rehabilitation companies (CRCs). I only pick out the most recent but not a single inspection since the split in the service has praised any of the private companies for doing a good job.
West Yorkshire – run by Purple Futures, an Interserve company – struggled with heavy caseloads, ICT and infrastructure problems, and gaps in skills. The inspection said that weaknesses at the CRC, which supervised 8,136 low- and medium-risk offenders, led to an overall rating as “Requiring Improvement”.
Sodexo-run Essex CRC was also rated as “Requiring Improvement”. There was a lack of focus on the understanding, identification and management of risk of harm to the public. In a third of the cases there were concerns about domestic abuse and the same proportion of cases had child safeguarding concerns. Inspectors recommended managers take steps “as a matter of urgency” to ensure that people on probation do not cause serious harm to others. Essex CRC’s method of supervising people on probation by telephone also came in for criticism.
Another Interserve-run service in Merseyside, which supervises more than 6,500 low- and medium-risk offenders, was found by inspectors to need to improve its work on public protection. Inspectors found domestic abuse and safeguarding checks were often seen as administrative tasks, rather than crucial work to keep people safe. Opportunities to identify and assess risks were sometimes missed, for example when people on probation started new relationships or moved in with partners who have children.
The proposal to decrease the number of community rehabilitation contracts from 21 to 10 retains the split between private and public, which is the central flaw corrupting the whole edifice
A few months ago, inspectors looked at whether the promised engagement with the skilled voluntary sector had materialised. It hadn’t.
Probation reforms have failed to deliver the aim of ensuring that voluntary and third-sector organisations play a central role in providing specialist support to offenders, according to the Chief Inspector. She said that there was a “bleak and exasperating” picture.
Clearly this mess needs sorting out. The Howard League brought together a group of academics who have been working on desistance and researching probation with Ministry of Justice officials. Changes are afoot and we thought it a good idea to use evidence on what works to influence what happens to probation.
It is good news that probation in Wales will be brought back into a unified public service, but the proposal to decrease the number of community rehabilitation contracts from 21 to 10 in England retains the split between private and public, which is the central flaw corrupting the whole edifice.
The rump of the National Probation Service is struggling but is at least providing a decent service in an effort to keep the public safe. The same cannot be true of the private CRCs, and they should just be dumped into the bin of history.
Now that the government has decided to end the contracts of the CRCs early, the next easy step would be to reintegrate the two wings into a public service. That would be one last restructuring that staff would welcome.