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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Prisons and probation failing to work effectively with sex offenders

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Prison and Probation Inspectors say management of sex offenders must improve

Management of sex offenders misses the mark

Significant improvements are needed to ensure sexual offenders are managed effectively in prison and in the community, according to a new joint prison and probation inspectors report out today.

 Inspectors found:

  • much of the work delivered with sexual offenders in custody is poor
  • the National Probation Service is not doing any work to address the sexual offending behaviour of four in 10 sexual offenders on probation
  • in one in three inspected cases, not enough was done to protect children
  • assessments of offenders were not completed to a good standard in a third of inspected cases, and were sometimes seen by staff as “a box to tick”.

Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said: “Sexual offence convictions are increasingly common, yet despite evidence that we can reduce the risk of these individuals reoffending, little if any meaningful work is being done in prisons. With many probation staff unsure what to do for the best with sexual offenders under probation supervision, the public are not sufficiently protected. This makes no sense.

“There needs to be a renewed national effort to make sure all reasonable steps are taken to protect the public. Prison and probation staff need better training and support, and the opportunity to work with offenders in ways known to reduce the risk of reoffending.”

At a national level, inspectors found a disconnect between how Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) described its work with sexual offenders and what was happening in practice. Inspectors found HMPPS had an incomplete picture of this group of offenders, and had not analysed their collective risks and needs. Inspectors have urged HMPPS to address this gap, as the missing information makes it difficult to manage sexual offenders effectively.

The inspection looked at the work of the National Probation Service (NPS), which supervises 106,819 people. Sexual offenders make up around one in five NPS cases. Inspectors found probation staff did not always have the knowledge, skills and support to work with sexual offenders. Inspectors found some staff using outdated tools and techniques in their work, and concluded electronic training and guidance was “largely ineffective”.

Some NPS staff have reported struggling with stress and anxiety, and have found it difficult to switch off after challenging conversations or viewing distressing content. Our national survey of NPS staff showed 60 per cent of employees were ‘not so’ or ‘not at all’ satisfied with the emotional and professional support they receive at work.

On a more positive note, inspectors praised NPS Victim Liaison Officers and the work they did with victims of sexual offences. These officers often went above and beyond in their work to ensure the needs of victims and children were taken into account.

The report found work in prison with men convicted of sexual offending was “poor” overall, and staff were not trained and supported sufficiently well to deliver a service that protects the public and reduces the risk of harm.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said: “We found too many cases in prisons where little, if anything, was done to reduce the likelihood of reoffending. This is serving neither the public interest nor that of those prisoners who need help to change their behaviour before being released back into the community.”

Inspectors found difficulties with the movement of sexual offenders in custody and as they prepared for release. Moving sexual offenders around the prison estate hindered the ability of some men to access support to address their offending behaviour. Moving men from prison to the community was also managed badly; planning for release was nowhere near good enough, and “too little, too late”. Inspectors found communication between NPS staff in the community and prison offender management teams was not effective in many cases, resulting in poor risk management and release plans. This was compounded by a lack of suitable accommodation for sexual offenders.

Accredited programmes were under-used in prison and in the community – even though they can help to reduce the likelihood of reoffending. Inspectors found some men on probation had practical barriers to attending programmes, for example because of work commitments or long distances to travel; others were unable to access suitable provision, for example men with learning disabilities. In some cases, individuals did not have a court order to complete an accredited programme but they could have benefitted from the work; probation officers are not using their professional judgment to put men forward. The situation was no better in prison. Inspectors visited five prisons and found two were not running accredited courses at all, despite holding a large number of prisoners convicted of these crimes.

Dame Glenys said: “Our report sets out a series of 15 recommendations for HM Prison and Probation Service, the National Probation Service, and HM Prison Service. We want to see urgent and much-needed progress in the management and supervision of sexual offenders – this work should be given priority in my view.”

Recommendations

Given the very strong criticisms made by both sets of inspectors and the fact that sex offenders make up a growing proportion of the prison population and probation caseload, I’ve taken the unusual step of including all 15 inspectors’ recommendations:

HM Prison and Probation Service should ensure that for both custody and community cases:

  • Staff are provided with a clear approach to working with those convicted of sexual offences
  • There are regular and comprehensive national analyses of offending-related risks and needs of those convicted of sexual offences
  • It promotes closer working between CRCs, prison staff and the NPS so that there is continuity of resettlement support, effective public protection and oversight throughout the sentence
  • It provides evidence-informed interventions for offenders whose needs are not met by accredited programmes
  • The workforce is equipped to identify, assess and deliver appropriate interventions to manage the risk of harm presented by those convicted of sexual offences
  • IT systems are improved to enhance joint working arrangements and to be available to relevant staff in both custody and the community.

NPS divisions and HM Prison Service should:

  • Improve the integration of assessment tools and the quality of assessments and plans to ensure that the public, particularly children and actual and potential victims, are protected.
  • Ensure that those allocated to work with sexual offenders are offered the appropriate level of professional and emotional support to deal with the complex, often difficult, nature of their caseloads
  • Ensure that MAPPA level setting is consistent, clearly communicated across the responsible authorities, and underpinned by robust assessment and regular reviews
  • Ensure that accredited programmes are delivered in all appropriate cases
  • Train staff to deliver individual work programmes for use with sexual offenders who are not subject to an accredited sexual offending group work programme
  • Ensure that all convicted sexual offenders in custody have an allocated NPS responsible officer and prison-based offender supervisor who is actively involved in managing the case.

HM Prison Service should ensure that:

  • Public protection procedures, including the monitoring of communications, are sufficiently robust and consistently applied
  • Prisons make a more effective contribution in their role as a MAPPA responsible authority
  • All prisons have an active strategy to reduce reoffending, based on a current needs analysis, that sets out the steps to be taken with the population of convicted sexual offenders.
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2 thoughts on “Prisons and probation failing to work effectively with sex offenders”

  1. When i worked with high risk offenders there was absolutely no specialist training. It was nigh on impossible to do any effective work, because we had no understanding of what that was. Although they later brought in some training in my area, this appears to be dependent on different offices, & so is inconsistent across the country. This was 10 yrs ago, & i therefore find it shocking that this is still happening today.

    1. The report very much confirms what the front line is saying, but the senior managers in Probation do not listen to them. New recruits are trained as POs without any specialist training or reflection on what it means to work with sex offenders without judgement or bias. NPS are an arrogant agency and have no interest in the experience of it’s front line workforce or of it’s service users. This was not the case under Trusts, although attitudes to the Third Sector, and other stakeholders was a shocking then as it is now.

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