A London probation service has made “considerable efforts” to improve the quality of its work over the past year, according to according to an official report published today.
HM Inspectorate of Probation conducted a routine inspection of London Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), which supervises nearly 29,000 low and medium-risk offenders across the capital.
The Inspectorate looked at 10 aspects of the CRC’s work and rated performance against half of these as ‘good’ and half as ‘requiring improvement’. Based on these findings, the Inspectorate has given the organisation an overall rating of ‘Requires improvement’.
Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said:
“London CRC continues to improve and has taken on board many of the recommendations from last year’s inspection. Now, the CRC offers good support for people leaving prison and better supervision for people who complete unpaid work in the community. The CRC has also developed effective relationships with partners and stakeholders.
“There is a strong leadership team, and staff are empowered to deliver services that will bring about lasting changes in the lives of vulnerable people. The staff we interviewed were well motivated and positive about their work and the organisation.
“However, London CRC needs to better support individuals to rehabilitate and to move away from further offending. We found a good range of services available to support people with basic needs and to tackle their offending behaviour, but it is disappointing to find that these services are not being delivered consistently in the inspected cases.
“Probation staff also need to assess and manage the risks that every offender poses to the community; we found the quality of this work needs to improve.”
Probation staff had not adequately assessed the risk of harm posed to actual and potential victims in nearly half (48 per cent) of inspected cases. Staff were also not paying enough attention to information from partners, such as the police or children’s social care services, or of past aggressive behaviour.
The Inspectorate found recruiting and retaining good-quality staff continues to be an issue in the capital. Workloads are high – more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of interviewed staff said they managed more than 55 cases.
Inspectors found leaders had put an “impressive” HR strategy in place and fewer staff had left the organisation over the past nine months. Around one in four probation staff are agency workers, and the CRC is in the process of converting some of these roles into permanent positions.
The Inspectorate is calling for further action to improve office accommodation and ensure staff stay safe while carrying out their duties.
Mr Russell said:
“London CRC shares 19 of its 22 offices with the London National Probation Service, which is responsible for supervising high-risk offenders. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for managing these premises but, at the time of inspection, we found some urgent problems with the building and a long list of less-urgent repairs that required attention.
“Systems and processes that are supposed to protect staff require improvement. Staff often work on a one-to-one basis with people under supervision and have been given safety devices for their protection. Inspectors found some devices did not work; staff also reported that some offices had a very limited number of devices, which could prevent them from carrying out home visits as and when needed.”
Further details of the report’s findings are set out below.
Inspectors organised their key findings under three main headings: organisational delivery; case supervision and unpaid work & through-the-gate.
- Senior leaders provide strong leadership that promotes the delivery of high-quality services. They keep those under probation supervision at the heart of their strategic decision-making and operational delivery.
- Staff are empowered to deliver personalised services that will bring about lasting change in the lives of vulnerable people. Although 80 per cent of staff we interviewed felt their workloads were too high, staff remain motivated, enthusiastic and positive. While around a quarter of responsible officer roles were held by agency staff, they were well integrated with the rest of the organisation.
- There is a comprehensive range of services on offer to support operational delivery, but the routine use of services is not yet embedded.
- Staff engage effectively with stakeholders, which is improving access to services for those under probation supervision; however, operational information-sharing with third-party providers around the risk of harm posed by individuals needs to be improved.
- Information and communications technology (ICT) arrangements are good, as are the provisions for management information to support improvement.
- Not all of the premises still owned and maintained by Ministry of Justice provide a suitable environment for staff to deliver quality, personalised services.
- Work to engage individuals in the assessment process is done well and there is an appropriate focus on factors linked to offending and desistance. However, we found that staff had not adequately assessed the risk of harm posed to actual and potential victims in 48 per cent of the inspected cases.
- Planning focuses well on reducing reoffending and supporting desistance, but 45 per cent of individuals under probation supervision in the inspected cases were not consistently and actively involved in the planning process. Additionally, just over half of the plans inspected adequately prioritised the risk of harm.
- Work to engage individuals in their sentence is good, but very few interventions are delivered to reduce reoffending and keep other people safe.
- Reviewing of work to engage and motivate individuals under probation supervision is largely done well, but staff do not liaise enough with other agencies to assess and manage the risk of harm.
- There has been considerable effort to improve unpaid work in the past 18 months and delivery is now strong across London. In around three-quarters of the inspected cases, we found that assessment work focused well on the main issues relevant to unpaid work; effective attention was paid to supporting compliance, and arrangements for unpaid work maximised the opportunity for personal development.
Through the gate
- The coordination of resettlement activity is done well. We found that, in over 80 per cent of the inspected cases, individuals were fully involved in planning their resettlement needs and their views were being appropriately considered. Plans focused sufficiently on resettlement needs to support desistance.
The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: outstanding, good, requires improvement and poor. This is the nineteenth inspection of a CRC under the new rating system; one area was rated “good”, one “inadequate” and seventeen areas including London have been rated in the second to lowest band: “requiring improvement”. A glance at my unofficial probation league table below does, however, show that London is one of the better performing CRCs and scores the same number of points as the capital’s division of the National Probation Service.
As readers know, the probation service is currently being re-designed again and the current 21 CRCs will be replaced by 12 Innovation Partners, responsible for delivering unpaid work and accredited programmes, but no longer offender management. We shall have to wait and see whether MTC bids to be the Innovation Partner in London when the MoJ procurement competition opens this Autumn.