Some positives but poor case supervision
Essex Community Rehabilitation Company – which supervises more than 4,000 low and medium-risk offenders – has received a mixed write-up from probation inspectors in a report published today (10 October 2018).
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation has given Essex CRC a ‘requires improvement’ rating, but acknowledged some aspects of its service are delivered well. Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said:
“This organisation can rightly aspire to a better rating in the future, if it is able to deal with the shortcomings that we found in our inspection.”
Inspectors identified public protection work as a key area for improvement. Dame Glenys said:
“We found a lack of focus on the understanding, identification and management of risk of harm to the public, and this must be remedied as a priority. In a third of the cases we looked at, there were concerns about domestic abuse and the same proportion of cases had child safeguarding concerns.”
She 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. Dame Glenys said:
“Dispiritingly, many individuals under supervision are quickly relegated to telephone rather than face-to-face contact with their probation worker, despite pressing needs in the more complex cases. This approach provides nowhere near the level of supervision we expect.”
Staff at the CRC cited heavy workloads – more than two-thirds (69 per cent) of those interviewed by inspectors said their workload was unmanageable.
On a more positive note, inspectors found the organisation was well led by “committed, able and forward-looking” senior managers and had “an outstanding approach to local partnership working”.
Inspectors noted Essex CRC has an “impressive” range of specialist services to help people on probation to move away from further offending and antisocial behaviour. This included specific provision for women offenders and people who misuse substances.
The CRC’s unpaid work scheme – known locally as community payback – was singled out for praise. The scheme supervises people who have been sentenced by the court to complete between 40 and 300 hours of unpaid work in the community.
Dame Glenys said:
“Unpaid work is delivered to a good standard, with elements of delivery showing signs of an outstanding scheme. This is unusual and a joy to see.”
Last year “highly motivated” staff supervised people to complete more than 215,000 hours of unpaid work, providing opportunities for reparation and rehabilitation.
The inspection focussed on three areas: the organisation’s leadership and delivery of its services; the quality of supervision of low and medium-risk offenders; the CRC’s delivery of unpaid work and services to people leaving prison, known as Through the Gate.
The Inspectorate has made six recommendations to help Essex CRC improve its performance.
Inspectors organised there key findings under three main headings: organisational delivery; case supervision and unpaid work & through-the-gate.
Inspectors were positive about much of the way that Essex is CRC is organised:
- Essex CRC has many positive features as an organisation and has an outstanding reputation in local partnership work. There is sufficient senior and middle management capacity to translate intentions into tangible progress.
- Systems are in place, or are in the process of development, to support staff in delivering a high-quality service. Staff have good access to an appropriate range of training opportunities. Based on staff survey results, the CRC has designed, and is delivering, a well-developed approach to staff engagement. We identified concerns in the staff group about the high caseloads they were expected to manage. An approach to workload management is being developed which has the potential to establish more effective use of staff resource.
- We found an impressive range of services that supports the delivery of high-quality work. There is a well-developed range of services delivered by the CRC staff, and mainstream and contracted voluntary sector providers. A pool of accredited programme facilitators delivers a suite of national accredited interventions. There is also a range of interventions available for delivery within Rehabilitation Activity Requirements (RAR). These services are accessed by the National Probation Service, and some bespoke interventions have been developed at their request.
- Staff are well supported through a comfortable working environment and through Information Communication Technology which is maintained to a high standard. Essex CRC occupies a modern and well-maintained estate and, where it is co-located with other organisations, the staff perceive that the benefits of closeness to accessible services outweigh the hazards associated with working in a busy environment. Information Communication Technology provides a reliable support to staff delivering the service, enabling staff rather than creating barriers to effectiveness.
Inspectors were much more critical of the quality of work with offenders:
- Essex CRC needs to improve the quality of assessment work. The use of Justice Star provides a platform for service user engagement through active involvement, and is adequate for considering the needs of the case. However, staff are not sufficiently focused on the risk of harm that individuals present.
- Essex CRC needs to improve the quality of planning work. Plans are formally recorded in most cases. The quality of these plans is mixed, however. Too many lose sight of the needs of the case and lack focus on the risk of harm to the public that the individual presents.
- Essex CRC needs to improve markedly the implementation and delivery of work with those under probation supervision. Progress is being made in the delivery of services to female service users, and this is to be applauded. Clear obstacles remain in delivery to black, Asian and minority ethnic service users, and these need to be addressed. Cases managed in the ‘hub’, where responsible officer contact is by telephone, showed a lack of attention to individual need and often appeared to lose sight of the risk of harm posed.
- Essex CRC needs to improve the quality of reviewing in case supervision. Reviews, when undertaken, engaged the individual adequately, and identified adjustments to the plan in a clear way. The reviews too often lost sight of matters concerning risk of harm to the public.
Unpaid work & through-the-gate
- The unpaid work provision in Essex CRC is generally of good quality and has some elements of outstanding work. Unpaid work provides a good range of activities, many of which have clear benefits to the local community. In the majority of cases, there was sufficient assessment and induction to provide safe and productive experiences for the individual. This is a well-managed scheme. More can be done to optimise the benefits of the scheme, by developing clearer links between the work undertaken and educational or employment-related interventions.
- The Through the Gate service delivered by Essex CRC has the ingredients to deliver effective work but improvement is required. Staff and managers involved in the delivery of the Through the Gate service demonstrate a lot of enthusiasm and commitment to the work. There are some obstacles to delivery within the prison settings and these need to be overcome by senior managers through negotiation with prison governors. There are further obstacles in the complexities of access to specialist support services, and the lead manager in the Community Rehabilitation Company needs to oversee a review and streamlining of current processes to increase effectiveness.
The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: excellent, good, requires improvement and poor. This is only the second inspection under the new rating system and both Merseyside and Essex CRCs have been rated in the third band: “requiring improvement”. In both inspection reports, there is a sense that performance is improving and of the inspectorate wanting to commend and drive that improvement.
In Essex, the inspectors were pleased to see a professionally run unpaid work service (now so rarely the case) and a committed management and staff team. Nonetheless, probation is about protecting the public and promoting desistance from crime and on both these core matters, Essex was judged to be performing poorly.
The inspectors will be back in 2019 and it is to be hoped that Essex CRC has made good on its potential by then. Of course, this time next year, the procurement process for the next phase of Transforming Rehabilitation which will reduce the number of CRCs in England from 20 to 10 will be well underway. Who knows which organisation will be supervising low and medium risk offenders in Essex in 2020?