First CRC to receive official rating
Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) needs to do more to protect the public.
That’s the headline finding of today’s HMI Probation inspection report.
The inspection report is the first one using the Inspectorate’s new methodology which involves inspecting a single organisation (either a CRC or an NPS area) rather than a geographical area with separate sections on both public and private provision. It is also the first inspection which gives the service an overall rating (along the lines of Ofsted or the CQC). There are four possible ratings: outstanding; good; requires improvement and poor. The inspectors rated Merseyside CRC as requiring improvement.
Inspectors found domestic abuse and safeguarding checks were often seen as administrative tasks, rather than crucial work to keep people safe. Opportunities to identify and assess risks were sometimes missed, for example when people on probation started new relationships or moved in with partners who have children.
When probation staff did identify potential risks, they did not routinely conduct home visits. These can help officials to understand whether other people living at the property – including children – are in danger.
Merseyside CRC is performing well in some areas. Staff were found to be hard-working and committed to delivering the best possible service, despite a lack of resources. The inspection also found services for women under probation supervision were “impressive”.
Some of the report’s findings present a mixed picture. In nearly half of the inspected cases, people on probation were not playing an active part in their own supervision. Typically, people under supervision are asked to consider why they committed a crime and what would prevent further offending. This questioning was not happening routinely.
Conversely, inspectors also found many examples of probation staff going the extra mile to meet the needs of the people they supervised. Individuals were supported to complete their sentences, vulnerable people were seen several times a week and medical conditions were given due consideration.
Inspectors were encouraged to find the leadership team had already started to address some critical issues, such as redeploying staff to cover absences.
Merseyside CRC was also found to deliver some good services to help people under supervision to find work, training, education and accommodation. Support for people leaving prison and resettling in the community – known as Through the Gate – showed promise.
You can see the Inspectorate’s ratings report card below:
Inspectors found that the CRC’s operating model which they describe as “innovative” is largely embedded, and is understood by staff and others who work with or alongside the CRC. They found that staff are over-worked but nevertheless well motivated, attributed to the quality of leadership in Merseyside.
However, inspectors found a clear difference between the quality of services delivered by senior case managers (those qualified as probation officers) and case managers (probation services officers):
Case managers have not been adequately equipped to deliver high-quality personalised services. Their induction is basic and they have gaps in their knowledge and skills.
Inspectors found this dichotomy most evident when it comes to managing risk of harm, where the work of case managers is not sufficiently effective. Safeguarding and domestic abuse checks are often seen as administrative tasks rather than essential professional work. Inspectors found that the poor quality of case supervision in relation to managing risk of harm compounds poor performance on this issue.
The report finds that the CRC has a good understanding of the profile of those individuals it supervises, wider management information is plentiful and helps leaders decide what services to provide.
However, the range of specialist services available is not sufficiently comprehensive, despite some strong partnerships, and the CRC’s own programmes are underdeveloped and underused.
It is a barometer of the current state of probation that although the Inspectors found many positive aspects to praise about Merseyside CRC’s performance, they still felt compelled to rate it overall as “requires improvement.”
In my opinion, the decision to introduce a probation rating system (for both CRCs and NPS areas) is positive, allowing comparison across areas and spurring on both those who do well and those who badly. It is about time this level of transparency was applied to the probation service. The only downside is that the current ratings for CRCs are unlikely to serve as the baseline they were intended to be as the MoJ has decided to reduce the number of CRCs from 21 to 10 in the next iteration of its Transforming Rehabilitation project.
As is my custom, I leave the last word on this inspection report to Chief Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey:
It is vital that probation staff build strong, challenging and trusting relationships with the people they supervise. Staff need to work together with individuals to create plans that address why they offended and put steps in place to prevent further offending.
Merseyside CRC needs to give priority to public safety. We recommend they look again at how they manage risk, and equip staff with the skills and knowledge to keep actual and potential victims safe.