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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Another private probation service under-performing

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Beds, Northants, Cambs & Herts CRC latest to be rated "requiring improvement" by probation inspectors.

Public protection work unsatisfactory

Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Community Rehabilitation Company (BeNCH CRC) was assessed by probation inspectors as ‘Requiring improvement’, the second lowest rating,  in a new inspection report published today (3 May 2019). 

Inspectors were impressed by the commitment of staff at all levels in BeNCH CRC , but once again found that the probation work done here is not of the right standard. Inspectors found some areas of work requiring improvement, and rated some other areas of work as inadequate – the lowest available rating.

BeNCH CRC is one of six probation services managed by Sodexo, a multinational private company. The CRC supervises more than 7,000 low and medium-risk offenders across the four counties. Individuals are either in prison or have been released, or are serving community sentences.

HM Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said: 

BeNCH CRC’s greatest asset is its workforce. It has a strong leadership team, and staff are committed and motivated to support people to turn away from crime.

Over the last year, the CRC has worked hard to fill vacancies and cut down on agency staff. At the same time, it is supporting staff to gain professional qualifications.

Dame Glenys said: 

Unfortunately, our inspection found the management of cases is poor. In particular, domestic abuse and child safeguarding issues were not always investigated or recorded properly. Probation services should prioritise both rehabilitation and public safety, so BeNCH CRC needs to give this matter their urgent attention.

Inspectors looked at a sample of cases and concluded staff need to do more to protect actual and potential victims.

The inspection also found that some meetings with individuals under probation supervision took place in open booths in the CRC’s offices. The Inspectorate has previously raised concerns about the impact of this on work to support rehabilitation and public protection.

The CRC’s work to support people leaving prison – known as ‘Through the Gate’ – was found to be inadequate. Resettlement plans did not always fully consider the individual’s personal circumstances or manage the potential risk of harm to other people. In more than half of inspected cases, there was poor communication between staff working in prison and in the community.

Dame Glenys said:
The quality of Through the Gate work falls short of expectation in so many respects. It needs to improve, from start to finish. Individuals need support when they leave prison: a roof over their heads, help to write CVs and find employment, and specialist support for issues such as mental health or substance misuse. These things matter to individuals and can help or hinder their prospects of moving away from further offending.

BeNCH CRC has started to put a substantial programme in place to improve the standard of its work. The programme was not fully up and running at the time of inspection, but the move has been welcomed.

Key findings

Inspectors organised their key findings under three main headings: organisational delivery; case supervision and unpaid work & through-the-gate.

Organisational delivery

  • There is strong leadership at both senior and operational manager levels but the focus on quality has not been fully embedded. The introduction of a new operating model in October 2018 has hampered the speed at which the quality agenda has become established; we saw this in our review of individual cases. 
  • Staff are committed, motivated and supported to deliver the vision and strategy of the CRC. Workforce planning within BeNCH is well developed and responsive. The CRC has recently recruited new staff and practitioners report a reduction in individual caseloads, compared with the previous year. There is still further work to do to achieve the required allocation of cases between responsible officers at differing grades. Staff are enthusiastic and consistently positive about the level of support from, and accessibility of, their managers. 
  • A range of services and interventions are in place, but more emphasis is needed on reviewing and evaluating their quality and outcomes. BeNCH provides two accredited programmes and has developed non-accredited interventions, including a suite of Rehabilitation Activity Requirements (RARs) to address an individual’s identified needs and risks. We found that RAR interventions, however, are not consistently available across all geographical areas. 
  • Policies and guidance are clearly communicated, and although there are positive aspects to the estates and information and communication technology (ICT) strategy, there are examples where facilities and access are of concern. Although time and investment went into developing Sodexo’s own offender
    management system, this was recently abandoned and BeNCH continues to use the national case management system, nDelius, and the national assessment system, OASys. Staff in BeNCH experience frustration with the speed of access to national systems, as elsewhere.

Case supervision

As is the case in most CRCs, the primary probation task of case supervision was not up to standard:

  • Assessment focused well on engaging the individual but did not sufficiently identify and analyse factors related to offending or keeping other people safe. Case supervision is not delivered to a sufficient standard and quality. While staff are committed and motivated to support people in reducing reoffending, they do not pay sufficient attention to ensuring that good-quality case management routinely happens in practice.
  • Individuals under probation supervision were meaningfully involved in planning but this did not adequately focus on keeping other people safe. Adequate planning to address domestic abuse issues, child safeguarding or child protection issues was not undertaken. The impact of this is that the deficits identified in assessment, particularly concerning keeping other people safe, were then further compounded when it came to planning.
  • Work to engage the individual was effective but this was not always supported by implementation and delivery of interventions. Implementation and delivery of services to support desistance and address factors related to offending (such as relationships, substance misuse, and education, training and employment (ETE)) were not always delivered. More positively, where strengths or protective factors existed, the delivery of services built upon these, particularly factors relating to non-criminal identity and an individuals’ motivation to change.
  • Where a review was needed, this was carried out in the majority of cases and involved other agencies, as required. In cases where other agencies were involved in managing the individual’s risk of harm, input from them to inform reviewing was not sufficient. Of particular concern was that reviews did not focus sufficiently on keeping other people safe.

Unpaid work

Delivery of unpaid work requires improvement. While arrangements support an individual to engage and comply with the sentence, recording does not sufficiently detail the actual work undertaken, or the personal development and skills that an individual may gain. In the cases inspected, there was limited evidence that
supervisors had provided feedback. There was no routine mechanism for recording this in a way that would contribute to the responsible officer’s overall assessment of the work completed on the order.

Through the gate

The quality of Through the Gate work is inadequate. We found that work is not being recorded and transferred into nDelius. We also saw examples of pre-release plans describing what should happen once the individual is released, as often the work needing to be done had not happened in prison.

Conclusion

The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: excellent, good, requires improvement and poor. This is the thirteenth inspection of a CRC under the new rating system and twelve areas have been rated in the second to lowest band: “requiring improvement”, the only exception being the even worse “inadequate” rating given to the Dorset, Devon & Cornwall CRC when it was run by the now defunct Working Links.

I have been compiling an unofficial league table of probation performance based on the inspectorate’s ratings. The table has been updated today and shows BeNCH CRC as one of the poorest performing CRCs. 

It is disappointing, if not surprising, that CRC performance has not improved despite many areas now undergoing their second inspection. The fact that contracts are ending early next year with the new specification still to be announced makes this an uncertain time for those operating, working in and being supervised by Community Rehabilitation Companies.

The inspection report is published on the same day that the Public Accounts Committee’s progress review of Transforming Rehabilitation concludes:

In its haste to rush through its reforms the MoJ not only failed to deliver its rehabilitation revolution but left probation services underfunded, fragile, and lacking the confidence of the courts.

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