Inspectors find confusion
Yesterday (15 December 2014) the Probation Inspectorate published its first report on the new split probation service: “Transforming Rehabilitation – Early Implementation.”
This inspection was designed to look at the implementation of TR and therefore had a different methodology from usual. The report is based on work in a number of NPS areas and CRCs looking at three main issues:
- Case allocation
- Court work, assessment and allocation
- The commencement of orders
The findings from the inspection are organised in four sections which are summarised below.
National Probation Service work in courts
Athough court work is relatively unchanged, the inspectors highlighted a number of key issues:
- Fewer reports are being completed on the day of sentence.
- Reports were of “good enough quality“.
- Due to changes in practice over recent years, few reports were based on a full written risk assessments and many cases were allocated without these assessments.
- It was unusual for a full discussion about diversity issues to take place at any point in the court process, and often this was only undertaken in the first appointment with an offender manager.
Allocation to CRC or NPS
The splitting of the probation service under TR requires a decision to allocate cases to either the National Probation Service (high risk) or the new Community Rehabilitation Companies run by new private providers. The inspectors found:
- Allocation decisions were time consuming.
- The Case Allocation System did not support full and clear recording of all the factors relevant to the allocation decision.
- The Risk of Serious Recidivism tool only identified a small number of cases to be managed by the NPS other than those that would be allocated due to Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements or risk of serious harm status.
- Most cases were allocated within one working day after sentence.
- A small number of cases should have been allocated to the NPS rather than the CRC.
- Staff were not clear about whether the new Risk of Serious Harm screening replaced the previous one or was additional to it.
- In many cases a full Risk of Serious Harm analysis had either not been done by the NPS or not been received by the CRC.
- Information from the NPS was sometimes reaching CRC staff after the offender reported for their first appointment.
- The fragmentation of the contact with offenders going through the court process and the increasing use of group induction, meant that many offenders had contact with numerous
probation staff before meeting the offender manager who would be working with them.
Probation IT systems have, for many years, been extremely unreliable and one of the principal reasons that offender managers spend so much time in front of their monitors instead of working with offenders. Inspectors reported that:
- The introduction of TR has exacerbated previous IT problems.
- While some of the initial difficulties have been resolved, many of the new tasks required by TR are more complex and take longer than previously. The pressure of this falls most heavily on the NPS.
- Some of these new tasks were not integrated with existing systems, so staff had to enter the same basic information about offenders more than once.
- Access to computers was poor, causing delays, inefficiencies and reliance on temporary paper systems which had to be uploaded to the computer system later.
- Most operational staff were completely unaware that the two existing systems could be linked, resulting in inconsistent and inaccurate recording practices.
- Warning flags were often either not used, or carried out of date or misleading information, although this problem was assessed as being no worse than before TR.
Staffing and resources
NAPO, the probation union, and the Ministry of Justice have recently been painting very different pictures of probation staffing levels. The inspectors found:
- Not all areas had the right balance of probation officers and probation services officers to cover courts and prepare reports
- NPS staff struggling to cope with the TR workload.
- It hard to understand why probation services officers had been placed in the NPS, with the exception of court work.
- SPOs in the NPS were spending too much time managing HR processes,such as recruitment.
- Insufficient management oversight of cases in both NPS and CRCs.
- Morale varied markedly in both NPS and CRCs in different geographical areas.
The inspectors made a total of 67 recommendations to address the concerns they identified. It is too early to say whether these issues are teething problems inevitable given the massive change that TR involves or fundamental flaws that will get worse over time.
It will be intriguing to see whether performance improves or deteriorates when new providers take over CRCs in early 2015.
For me, the main disappointment of this report was that it had little to say about the interface between the NPS and CRCs, which most commentators (including me) feel presents the biggest challenge.
This was because the inspection took place in the early weeks and months of TR. The inspectors have pledged to focus on enforcement and risk escalation in future inspections – which are likely to be the best indicators of whether it is possible to run a split service efficiently.