Good performance but workloads too high
Probation inspectors found the Midlands division of the National Probation Service (NPS), supervising more than 17,000 high-risk offenders across a large and complex area, to be well led, assessing its overall performance as good, the second highest assessment, in a report published today (18 December 2018).
Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, said the leadership had “a clear vision and strategy to protect the public and to reduce reoffending.”
The division, covering Birmingham, Staffordshire, and the West and East Midlands, had an appropriate range of specialist interventions to provide tailored support for individuals, to reduce their risk of reoffending and to reduce the risk of harm they presented. The volume, range and quality of services provided were found to be sufficient to meet the needs of most service users, the report noted.
Despite the overall good assessment, however, Dame Glenys outlined some serious issues identified by inspectors in August 2018.
Workloads were too high, especially for mid-ranking probation officers and victim liaison officers. Inspectors found “substantial staffing shortages.” The division is recruiting, Dame Glenys said, “but leaders do need to get professional staff numbers up to complement. More also needs to be done to redress an imbalance in workloads across the division and between groups of staff.”
The extent to which premises and offices provided an appropriate and safe environment for working with offenders varied. Some premises needed urgent repairs and improvement. Dame Glenys said the Ministry of Justice had a role to play in improving NPS property and the facilities management contract.
Although the division was doing some good work to reduce reoffending, it would do better still if it were more consistent, with all local delivery units matching the best of them.
“And as we have said elsewhere,” Dame Glenys added, “the division and the wider NPS would benefit in our view from being clearer about the priority to be afforded by managers to quality management, quality assurance and the professional oversight of the work of individual probation workers.”
Inspectors noted, in areas for improvement in individual case supervision, that there was a “lack of responsiveness where concerning information comes to light.”
Among the Inspectorate’s recommendations to the division are that it should “ensure that interventions provided to offenders are used consistently across the division” and that “risk management plans are reviewed in response to changes in risk of harm.”
Inspectors organised their key findings under three main headings: organisational delivery; case supervision and NPS-specific (court reports/case allocation and statutory victim work).
Inspectors’ main findings on this domain were mixed:
- The vision and strategy of the NPS Midlands leadership team supported the delivery of services. NPS Midlands leaders have a clear vision and strategy to deliver a high-quality service to protect the public and reduce reoffending. The strategy is underpinned by the divisional delivery plan and supported by local delivery unit (LDU) heads who have increased their focus on quality. Resources have also been channelled into quality development work, to help deliver the strategy.
- There are substantial staff shortages, and high probation officer workloads. There are substantial staff shortages, impacting on probation officer workloads and the quality of service delivery.
- There was a range of services to support desistance from crime. The analysis of the profile of service users is up to date and comprehensive enough to help identify factors that contribute to offending and the risk of harm. The volume, range and quality of services provided are sufficient to meet the needs of most service users. Close relationships are maintained with Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) at a strategic level, though practitioners do not always make use of the services available at a local level.
- Facilities varied in the extent to which they supported high-quality service delivery. Not all premises and offices provide an environment in which practitioners feel safe in their work with all service users. Computer systems enable practitioners to record their work in a timely way, and the recent provision of new laptops has supported more efficient ways of working. The division’s performance against targets is sufficiently well understood by staff and managers, and is supported through vigorous senior management oversight arrangements and the work of a newly established quality development team.
Inspectors found the highest quality of case supervision recorded so far under the inspectorate’s new methodology.
- Most assessments focused on risks and needs, and how likely an individual is to reoffend. Almost all assessments analysed the extent of an individual’s motivation to stick to their sentence. Almost three-quarters of assessments analysed diversity and personal circumstances, and almost all considered the impact that this might have on the individual following their sentence. Most assessments focused on engaging with individuals to help them to change their behaviour. Most assessments also addressed offenders’ strengths as well as their risk of harms to others.
- Most sentence plans focused on ways of engaging with the individual to reduce the risk of reoffending and to help keep other people safe. More than three-quarters of sentence plans involved the individual meaningfully in the planning process, and almost three-quarters took diversity and personal circumstances into account when making these plans. Most sentence plans considered the individual’s views, and their motivation and readiness to change. Two-thirds of plans built on the individual’s strengths and protective factors, including motivation to change, developing a non-criminal identity, and family and relationships.
- Almost all sentences and post-custody periods were implemented effectively. Almost all the requirements of sentences started promptly, with an initial focus on establishing an effective working relationship with the individual concerned. In more than two-thirds of cases, the level and nature of contact offered was
sufficient to support desistance, and the delivery of services supported the individual to turn away from crime. In most cases, the level and nature of contact offered was sufficient to manage and minimise the risk of harm to others, and interventions to reduce the risk of harm to others were delivered as intended.
- Reviewing the sentence plan supported the individual’s desistance from crime. Potential barriers to continued engagement were considered and the individual was involved in reviewing their progress in almost three-quarters of cases. Adjustments were made in the ongoing plan of work in most cases
when this was needed.
- Most court reports supported the court’s decision-making and provided enough information to support case allocation. Reports drew on available sources of information in more than two-thirds of cases, and the individual’s views were considered in almost all cases. The factors that were linked to the likelihood of reoffending and the risk of harm were well thought out in most court reports.
- Pre-release contact gave individuals affected by sexual and/or violent crimes the opportunity to contribute to the conditions of release in all cases. Initial contact with victims of crime encouraged their engagement with the victim contact scheme in almost three-quarters of cases, and the contact was timely and supportive in most cases. There was effective communication between the responsible officer (RO) and the victim liaison officer (VLO) to support the safety of the individual concerned in almost all cases.
The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: excellent, good, requires improvement and poor. This is the seventh inspection under the new rating system, but only the second of a NPS area. While the five CRCs which have been inspected have all been rated in the third band: “requiring improvement”, both the NPS areas have been rated good.
Although the inspectors draw attention to the variable quality of probation work across the area, this is the first inspection report in the new system which has rated all aspects of case supervision as either outstanding or good.
It is also noteworthy for the fact that the inspectors found staff in the NPS Midlands division focusing not just on public protection but on promoting desistance as well.