Innovation praised but concerns over staff shortages
The North East division of the National Probation Service has been officially ranked as good in today’s HMI Probation report. Inspectors praised a range of innovative work but raised concerns about staff shortages, a problem affecting many NPS areas.
The North East Division of the National Probation Service (NPS) supervises almost 19,000 high-risk offenders across a large area that stretches from the Scottish border to The Wash in Lincolnshire.
Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said:
Leaders in the North East Division of the NPS have a clear vision and strategy to deliver a quality service, and this has been communicated well to staff and key stakeholders. However, the Division is not always able to achieve this ambition because of staff shortages and high workloads.
There is a lack of qualified probation officers across England and Wales, and inspectors found significant shortages across this Division too. Restrictions to local recruitment have further hampered efforts to place newly qualified officers in the offices where they are most needed.
Mr Russell said:
Despite staff shortages and some heavy workloads, staff across the Division take the time to develop professional relationships with the individuals under their supervision. If individuals missed appointments or broke the rules of their orders, staff did excellent work to engage individuals again and get them back on track.
Inspectors found the Division offers a comprehensive range of services to individuals to support their rehabilitation. Pioneering initiatives include ‘Project Beta’, a collaboration between HM Prison and Probation Service, Durham County Council and Darlington Borough Council. The project works with individuals who are leaving prisons across the North East to help ensure they enter stable accommodation on release to provide a foundation for beginning a life free from crime. Inspectors also noted a network of community hubs in Cleveland has supported women to move away from crime and reoffending.
The Division has also been proactive in addressing gaps in its services. Probation staff wanted to strengthen their work with sexual offenders so set up additional training and a library of resources. Staff can now work with this complex and challenging group of offenders with greater expertise and confidence.
Inspectors found the overall quality of work with individuals under supervision was generally good, but some aspects require improvement.
Mr Russell said:
The Division needs to take a more robust approach to risk management in order to keep potential and actual victims safe. In a third of inspected cases, the risk assessments did not contain enough information about who might be at risk of harm from the individual under supervision and the exact nature of that risk. For example, some assessments overlooked victims of previous offences.
The Inspectorate has made seven recommendations to improve the quality of the Division’s work. I summarise the findings of the inspection in more detail below.
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:
- delivering a quality service is a strategic priority and this is communicated well to staff and to many of its key stakeholders
- significant staff shortages at probation officer grade present a challenge; although this is actively managed in part, it hinders the delivery of a quality service to all service users;
- the range and quality of services address the needs and risks of most service users, including those of many women offenders
- the division has taken a proactive approach to improving the state of premises and offices, although there are still a significant number of outstanding work requests
- the views of service users are actively sought through the establishment of focus groups throughout the division, and these are used to drive improvement.
- assessments identify the service user’s strengths and protective factors, but we found there was no comprehensive identification of risk of harm to others in 36% inspected cases
- plans for supervision build well on the service user’s strengths and protective factors in 85% cases, although only 63% plans adequately addressed child safeguarding concerns
- good efforts are made to re-engage service users after enforcement action is taken
- implementation focused effectively on engaging the service user in 88% cases, though delivery of services effectively supported the safety of other people in only 67% cases
- when progress was reviewed, the service user’s level of compliance and engagement was generally considered, although responsible officers did not do enough when service users’ circumstances changed to review their risk of harm to others
Court reports and case allocation
- information provided to the court was adequate to support the court’s decision-making in 67% cases
- allocation of cases was prompt and generally based on enough information.
Statutory victim work
- in 89% inspected cases personal contact with victims was timely and supportive
- initial contact with the victim encouraged their engagement with the victim contact scheme (VCS) and 51% victims had engaged with the VCS
- communication between the offender manager and victim liaison officer supported the safety of statutory victims, through victim liaison staff being provided with appropriate and timely information about the management of the service user in 72% cases.
The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: excellent, good, requires improvement and poor. This is the 22nd inspection under the new rating system, and the sixth of a NPS division. Like four of the other five NPS divisions, the North-East has been rated “good” (London NPS area was rated as “requiring improvement”).
Given the MoJ’s recent decision to return all offender management responsibilities to the NPS, the North-East division, like many other NPS areas will need to prioritise recruitment.
As you can see, NENPS slots in at fourth place in my unofficial probation league table below.