Inadequate public protection
Thames Valley Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), supervising offenders across a large and complex area, was found by probation inspectors to be well led, with an organisational ‘vibrancy’ and energetic staff, in an inspection report published today.
However, shortcomings in its operational delivery led HM Inspectorate of Probation to assess the CRC as ‘Requiring Improvement,’ its second lowest assessment.
Inspectors were particularly concerned about its weaknesses in work to keep actual and potential victims, including in domestic abuse cases, safe from harm. Inadequate staffing and skills to deliver some programmes for offenders were also a concern.
Thames Valley CRC, covering Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, supervised 4,750 offenders assessed as medium and low risk in March 2018. It is one of two CRCs, the other in London, run by MTCnovo.
Inspectors noted “experienced and knowledgeable senior leaders”. Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, said she was “encouraged by the strength in the leadership arrangements and the motivated workforce we found.” The CRC was committed to continuous improvement, promoting a learning and development culture.
However, Dame Glenys added: “Addressing the areas for improvement we found in this inspection is critical to improving the quality of the services delivered and keeping people safe.”
Inspectors found insufficient interventions with offenders were available in the volume and frequency needed to respond to demand l. The report noted that the CRC had insufficient staff to deliver some services and staff retention was a challenge. The CRC was recruiting to fill this gap but, Dame Glenys said, “it needs to deliver appropriate services to address offending and risk of harm even if full staffing has not been achieved.”
Inspectors were concerned about the CRC’s work to protect actual or potential victims. Dame Glenys said: “As we have been finding in other inspections across CRCs, the quality of risk of harm work is not thorough. Child safeguarding is not a new concept, nor is effective communication with partners when managing perpetrators of domestic abuse. We found too often that the basic checks with other organisations were just not being done.” She urged the CRC to consider the recommendations of the recently published HMI Probation domestic abuse thematic inspection report.
The assessment and management of risk of harm when offenders were ordered to carry out unpaid work was also a concern. Individuals allocated to work in the community were sometimes not safely placed, Dame Glenys said: “The CRC took immediate remedial action to address this when it was pointed out; nevertheless, arrangements for assessing and managing risk of harm and keeping people safe must be improved.
Inspectors organised their key findings under three main headings: organisational delivery; case supervision and unpaid work & through-the-gate.
Inspectors’ main findings on this domain were mixed:
- Experienced and knowledgeable senior leaders are working hard to support the delivery of services. In Thames Valley, the cohort model was simplified, allowing more localised service delivery. This was supported by ‘The Grid’ outlining the levels of contact and the range of interventions to address risk of harm and the needs of individuals. The CRC has more work to do to engage sufficiently with local sentencers. Senior leaders recognised they had not yet reached the desired end state. They continue to implement plans to develop a stable workforce, provide the right training, make the full suite of interventions available and ensure information and communications technology (ICT) better enables staff to be effective.
- Staff are motivated and committed, but some lacked the skills and knowledge to undertake the tasks they were given. Staff retention is a significant obstacle for the CRC. The Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP) has been re-instated, providing existing and future staff with the opportunity to gain this professional qualification. Responsible officers report unmanageable workloads, although they recognised that caseloads are decreasing and that management oversight was increasingly effective. Staff were taking opportunities for learning and development. Morale is positive and staff feel supported. Risk of harm training and the quality of practice is not good enough, which means actual and potential victims are not kept safe.
- Services to support rehabilitation and address the risk of harm posed by individuals are not fully established.The CRC has a dedicated rehabilitation services team overseeing supply chain arrangements, Through the Gate services and in-house interventions. Through its analysis of the risk of harm and needs profile, the CRC identifies the range of services needed. Services are not fully accessible however, which means individuals in employment are often unable to attend identified activities, and waiting times for some accredited programmes lead to delays in people starting interventions. Interventions designed to address factors related to risk of harm are not being delivered in sufficient quantity. The CRC is recruiting and training new facilitators to address this.
- Facilities and ICT support the effective delivery of services and policies and guidance are clearly communicated. Relevant and necessary polices and guidance documents are available and communicated clearly in the organisation. Facilities and ICT are stable and reliable, allowing effective service delivery and flexible working. The CRC is developing its Omnia ICT system, a single platform that brings together individual risk and needs assessment, action planning, and case management. At the time of inspection, live testing was taking place and staff were looking forward to its implementation.
Inspectors were generally very critical about the core probation task of supervising offenders:
- Assessments focused on offending, desistance and in most cases on keeping other people safe, but did not contain information from others. Responsible officers engaged well with individuals in completing assessments, which focused on levels of motivation and protective factors. Efforts to obtain information from other agencies were not sufficient. Assessments in some cases where there were domestic abuse and/or safeguarding concerns were not investigated.
- Plans were not sufficiently focused on managing the risk of harm posed. The lack of relevant information considered for the assessment meant plans were not focused sufficiently on keeping actual and potential victims safe. Contingency planning and restrictive measures were not considered fully.
- Services and interventions did not always focus on the right things and factors related to offending and risk of harm were not always addressed. There were gaps in the availability of in-house interventions to address risk of harm and offending-related needs. Some responsible officers were not sure about the arrangements for one-to-one appointments. Structured, relevant and meaningful interventions were not being delivered.
- Reviewing was not effective, progress was not always measured and adjustments were not made when necessary. Reviewing practice lacked consistency and failed to focus sufficiently on keeping other people safe. Individuals were not always engaged in the review process and information from other agencies was not collated. Plans in many cases remained unaltered, despite evidence of a change in circumstances.
Unpaid work and through-the-gate
- Unpaid work: Arrangements for assessing and safely allocating individuals to an unpaid work placement were ineffective. Diversity and the personal circumstances of individuals were taken into account when unpaid work placements were allocated. Obstacles to compliance, for example, for those in rural areas and in locations with poor transport links, were addressed positively.
- A full analysis of risk of serious harm was not completed in relevant cases. The factors likely to increase an individual’s risk of harm were not considered before the person was allocated to a placement. The process for flagging risk of harm issues to supervisors was insufficient, and not enough detail of the actual or potential risks or actions required to manage the risk was considered.
- Through the Gate: The CRC was working positively with Milton Keynes College to enhance Through the Gate services. Resettlement planning and activity was sufficiently focused on factors related to offending and desistance. Effective work was done to support the resettlement of individuals, but communication with local community services prior to release was inadequate.
The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: excellent, good, requires improvement and poor. This is the fifth inspection of a CRC under the new rating system and all five areas (Thames Valley, Northumbria, West Yorkshire, Merseyside and Essex) have been rated in the second to lowest band: “requiring improvement”.
In all of the inspection reports, there is a sense that CRCs are becoming more robust, have resolved some of their organisational and structural problems and have a clearer strategic direction. What concerns me most is that inspectors are still finding core practice (case supervision, public protection and unpaid work in particular) to be sub-standard.
Given that the primary focus of most CRCs over the next fifteen months will be the MoJ’s re-procurement process, they may struggle to keep their attention on the much-needed job of improving their main business – promoting desistance and protecting the public.