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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Norfolk/Suffolk private probation must improve

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Norfolk and Suffolk CRC must improve its supervision of offenders. Probation inspectors officially rate the private probation service "requiring improvement".

A probation service in East Anglia is not supervising offenders effectively and must do more to manage potential risks, according to a new report published by probation inspectors today.

HM Inspectorate of Probation conducted a routine inspection of Norfolk and Suffolk Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) in May 2019. Inspectors looked at 10 aspects of the service’s work and has given the CRC an overall rating of ‘Requires improvement’.

The CRC is operated by Sodexo and manages more than 3,000 low and medium-risk offenders. This includes individuals preparing to leave prison or who have already been released, and those who are serving community or suspended sentences.

Inspectors were particularly concerned about the poor supervision of individuals across the two counties. For the first time, inspectors have rated all four of our key case supervision standards – the assessment, planning, implementation and review of cases – as ‘Inadequate’, the lowest possible rating.

Chief Inspector Justin Russell said: 

“We last inspected in Suffolk in 2017 and, at that time, we assessed the quality of work as ‘nowhere near good enough’. Since then, the CRC has put several improvements in place including new senior managers and an increase in frontline staffing.

“It was disappointing, therefore, to find the quality of case management remains unacceptably poor. The greatest deficiencies lie in work to manage the risk of harm to others, in cases where the safeguarding of children or domestic abuse is a concern. Rapid improvement is essential to ensure that vulnerable people are protected.”

In more than half of the inspected cases, insufficient action was taken to identify and manage the risks that an individual could pose to others. Inspectors felt staff should have contacted the police about domestic abuse concerns, but in many cases, they failed to do so.

The Inspectorate has urged the CRC to prioritise staff development. While staff are working hard and their workloads are now more manageable, they need to build on their knowledge and skills to become better practitioners.

There was mixed support for individuals preparing to leave prison, including from HMP Norwich. Inspectors found staff drew up strong plans to help individuals resettle in the community, but subsequent activity and coordination was insufficient in too many cases. Worryingly, only four in ten (41 per cent) of prisoners had settled accommodation on release from prison in the inspected cases.

Inspectors rated the supervision of individuals who had been sentenced to unpaid work in the community as ‘Outstanding’. Individuals were assessed and matched to appropriate projects in the majority of inspected cases. Factors such as disability, language barriers and working patterns were taken into account.

Nearly all individuals in the inspected cases (89 per cent) had the opportunity to develop personal skills while paying back to society. In one positive example, individuals who had worked on a sports and recreation project went on to gain employment in this field.

Mr Russell said: 

“The CRC has demonstrated that it can deliver outstanding unpaid work services. It now needs to focus its efforts on a relentless drive to improve the quality of its case management to an acceptable level.”

Further details of the report’s findings are set out below.

Key findings

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

Organisational delivery

  • the CRC is good at planning and engaging with key stakeholders, but its approach to ensuring the quality of case management is ineffective.
  • workloads have reduced over the past six months, are now more reasonable and are actively managed. Not all responsible officers are sufficiently well engaged, however, or receive sufficient development through improvement activity and high-quality supervision by middle managers.
  • a wide range of high-quality services are available, and sentencers interviewed expressed growing confidence in their use.
  • policies are communicated effectively to staff, and management information systems are well developed. Most premises are sufficiently accessible. Improvement plans following audit and inspection are followed through.

Case supervision

  • assessments engaged individuals in 66 per cent of the cases we inspected, but in too many of these cases they were insufficiently well informed or analytical.
  • planning was insufficient at engaging individuals in 50 per cent of cases, and at addressing offending-related factors in 40 per cent of cases. It was inadequate at addressing risk of harm to others in the majority of cases.
  • responsible officers engaged well with individuals on a personal level in 66 per cent of the cases we inspected. Individuals were insufficiently involved, however, with the most appropriate services to reduce reoffending, and with services and other agencies to manage their risk of harm to others.
  • formal reviews had resulted in improved plans to address offending, but too often they failed to involve individuals. In the majority of cases where reviews were required, they failed to address adequately the factors linked to risk of harm to others, or to result in improved risk management plans.

Unpaid work

  • Unpaid work is delivered safely and effectively, offering a wide range of placements across the area. Individuals provide reparation to the community and learn skills, while meeting the expectations of the court.

Through the gate

  •  Resettlement planning is good, but subsequent activity and coordination is insufficient in too many cases. There is a need to improve linkage between resettlement and risk management plans, and to increase individuals’ access to accommodation on release.

Conclusion

The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: outstanding, good, requires improvement and poor. This is the 20th inspection of a CRC under the new rating system; one area was rated “good”, one “inadequate” and eighteen areas including Norfolk & Suffolk have been rated in the second to lowest band: “requiring improvement”. A glance at my unofficial probation league table below does, however, show that Norfolk and Suffolk is one of the poorer performing CRCs, as you would expect of an area which rated inadequate in all four domains relating to the key task of case supervision.

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 Sodexo bids to be an Innovation Partner when the MoJ procurement competition opens this Autumn.

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All Probation Posts are sponsored by Unilink

With over 20 years’ experience in the criminal justice sector, Unilink is a world leader in probation and community corrections software applications, as well as prisoner self-service, prisoner/case management and prisoner communications. Unilink’s integrated suite of products provide a complete digital solution enabling efficient running of prisons and probation. Underpinned by biometrics it integrates seamlessly to deliver security, efficiency and value – while being proven to help rehabilitate prisoners.

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