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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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Inspectors rate Humberside, Lincs & North Yorkshire CRC as requiring improvement

Casework must improve

Despite identifying some clear strengths, probation inspectors have rated the Humberside, Lincolnshire & North Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) as requiring improvement in a report published today (21 February 2019). Inspectors found a capable leadership team, a CRC which performed well in some areas and which had a good understanding of where improvements in service delivery were needed.

Inspectors’ concerns focused, in particular, on the impact of organisational changes.

Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, said the fieldwork for the inspection in October 2018 took place a week after the CRC had announced a new change programme, ‘Enabling our Future’. This had caused some staff anxiety about their future roles.

“The CRC’s operating model is now in place and is understood by staff and others who work alongside the CRC. However, the morale of operational staff is low. They report a disconnect between themselves and the aspirations of their senior leaders.
“They continue to find the pace of change overwhelming and believe it is not communicated well. This has had a negative impact on service delivery and is contributing to staff feeling that their workloads are unmanageable.” Inspectors, though, did not believe workloads were excessive and concluded that “constant change is the main factor affecting staff motivation.”

Another concern for inspectors was a variation in the quality of services delivered by senior case managers (those qualified as probation officers) and case managers (probation services officers). Case managers were not well equipped to deliver high-quality, personalised services for those under supervision.

Dame Glenys added that this difference in quality was most marked in work to manage the risk of harm to others. “Here, the work of case managers is not effective and leaves actual and potential victims not fully protected.” Inspectors noted that the quality of some aspects of work was “erratic.”

On case supervision, inspectors noted:

  • Assessments focused appropriately on factors related to offending but analysis of these factors was often weak.
  • Planning for work to reduce reoffending was generally done well but inspectors found that planning did not fully address how to keep actual and potential victims safe.
  • The engagement of individuals under supervision was prioritised well but not enough interventions were delivered to support desistance – the cessation of offending or other antisocial behaviour – and keep other people safe.
  • Reviewing of work was erratic and “significantly let down by responsible officers failing to focus meaningfully on risk of harm issues.”

On a more positive note, the CRC – which supervises 5,347 people – was found to deliver impressive services for women. The delivery of unpaid work ordered by courts and Through the Gate services for those leaving prison were both rated as good.

Overall, Dame Glenys said:

“This CRC’s senior leaders are committed to promoting a culture of learning from mistakes, and they respond well to findings from audits and independent inspection. We expect that the findings in this report will help to tackle shortfalls in practice and develop the quality of service delivery.”

Key findings

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

Organisational delivery

Inspectors’ main findings on this domain were mixed. 

  • There is a capable leadership team dedicated to improving performance and the quality of services delivered. The CRC has implemented a functional operating model based on research evidence. The model supports personalisation and building on the strengths of individuals under probation supervision to bring about lasting change. The CRC has communicated the model effectively to partners, stakeholders and staff. The pace of change has overwhelmed some staff, however. There is a culture in place that promotes challenge, inclusion and ideas but there is a disconnect between the aspirations of senior leaders and operational staff.
  • Staff are motivated to deliver high-quality services but, overall, morale is variable. Staff are motivated to deliver services and supported by accessible managers, although we found minimal evidence of formally recorded and  suitably targeted management oversight in many of the cases inspected. Sickness levels are low. When there are staffing pressures on offices, leaders manage the deployment of staff appropriately to maximise the delivery of high quality services. While average caseloads are not excessive, staff perceive their workloads to be unmanageable. 
  • The provision of resettlement services is good but not enough interventions are delivered in the community to support desistance. There are effective structures in place, including the reoffending analysis tool, to inform service provision. For women, there is an impressive range of provision. However, for other individuals and those undertaking Rehabilitation Activity Requirements (RARs), services are underdeveloped. 
  • Ongoing ICT problems had not been fully resolved. This has a negative impact on the quality of service delivery.

Case supervision

Inspectors found sub-par performance in this domain.

  • Assessments focused appropriately on factors related to offending but analysis of these factors was often weak. Responsible officers were able to demonstrate an understanding of the reasons why those they were supervising had offended. They provided good, descriptive accounts of current offences, and there was some evidence that they had considered the lived experiences of individuals. Engagement and motivation were assessed well. Information from a range of sources was usually considered in assessments. However, the analysis of reasons for offending and links to historical offending was much weaker. Assessments completed by senior case managers were better than those by case managers. 
  • Planning for work to reduce reoffending was generally done well but planning did not fully address how to keep actual and potential victims safe. Individuals under probation supervision were meaningfully involved in the planning process, and the majority were given opportunities to contribute to producing plans to support their desistance. However, too many plans failed to address how the requirements of the sentence would be delivered. Additionally, plans did not clearly explain the level and type of contact needed to support positive outcomes.Planning did not consistently focus on keeping other people safe.
  • The engagement of individuals was prioritised well but not enough interventions were delivered to support desistance and keep other people safe. Responsible officers prioritised devoting time to building effective working relationships with vulnerable individuals. They considered the personal needs of individuals well and used professional discretion appropriately to support the successful completion of orders. Interventions were mostly personalised to meet individuals’ assessed needs. However, contact levels were not always sufficient in many cases and not enough interventions to support desistance were delivered. 
  • Reviewing of work was erratic and significantly let down by responsible officers failing to focus meaningfully on risk of harm issues. 

Unpaid work

Overall inspectors were satisfied with the quality of unpaid work supervision provided:

Organisational delivery of unpaid work was good. Staff delivering these services worked hard to ensure that individuals engaged with them. Assessments covering motivation, diversity and individuals’ personal
circumstances were broadly good. The CRC recognised that limited access to public transport and issues related to rurality were barriers to attendance and compliance. Arrangements to collect individuals from pick-up points, to offer travel warrants and to cover expenses gave individuals better access and maximised the number who successfully completed the work.

Through-the-gate

Again, inspectors were pleased with this aspect of HLNYCRC’s performance:

Through the Gate practice was good Resettlement plans that addressed assessed resettlement needs were good. However, practitioners did not always draw on all the different sources of information available to them. Additionally, planning to address risk of harm was not carried out consistently well. Communication between prison-based staff and responsible officers in the community, before and at the point of release, was good.

Conclusion

The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: excellent, good, requires improvement and poor. This is the ninth inspection of a CRC under the new rating system and eight 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 HLNYCRC, despite its failings, as the third highest performing private probation company.

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