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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Welsh private probation performing poorly

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Wales CRC is unsurprisingly struggling since its previous owner went into administration and is rated by inspectors as "requiring improvement"

High workloads and poor public protection work

The new owners of a probation service in Wales should make further changes to improve their work with offenders and better protect the public, according to an inspectors’ report published today (3 July 2019).

The Wales Community Rehabilitation Company was run by Working Links until that company went into administration in February this year and was taken over by Seetec, the company which operates the Kent, Surrey & Sussex Rehabilitation Company. Rather bizarrely (to my mind), the CRC now appears to be officially called the Wales division of Kent, Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company.

This is a mainly critical report which is no surprise as the fieldwork for the inspection was undertaken in February just as Working Links was going into administration.  The Inspectorate has given the CRC its second lowest rating of ‘Requires improvement’.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: 

“We found the CRC’s work was of mixed quality and some practices, including the way staff manage risk of harm, need to improve considerably.
There are many challenges to addressing offending issues in Wales. These reflect a complex mixture of urban and rural environments, geographical and transport constraints, and the diverse needs of the people living and working in Wales. Our inspection found Seetec, the new owners, are fully aware of these issues and are managing the transition process well.”

Inspectors found a sufficient range of community-based and specialist services in place, including services for women. They also found team managers and professional staff have high workloads, which dilutes the attention given to providing effective services.

Mr Russell said: 

“The CRC works well with other agencies to design and deliver services on an all-Wales basis. This has seen innovation in some aspects of practice.
However, more can be done to manage the risk of harm to keep potential and actual victims safe. Staff did not seek information from other agencies – such as the police or children’s social services – to support their assessments in two-thirds of inspected cases. Important information about domestic or child abuse incidents could have been missed, and potential victims and their families may not have been protected adequately.”
Staff want to improve the lives of individuals under probation supervision and to contribute to their rehabilitation. They work hard to support individuals with the everyday challenges they face.
The new owners have an opportunity to review and improve the way the organisation operates, and to raise the standard of offender management. More effective probation will support rehabilitation and help individuals to avoid further offending, and improve public protection.”

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 has a strong leadership team that is committed to the provision of effective services. The CRC’s original owning company (Working Links) has recently gone into administration but its operating model remains in use. The transition to the new owners (Seetec) was handled well by senior managers. Managers and staff in Wales understand probation and are passionate about delivering quality probation services. The operating model is designed to support a personalised and strengths-based approach to helping those who are subject to supervision to achieve rehabilitation goals, but this is not always achieved.
  • Lean staff resourcing at all levels has inhibited progress in delivering quality services. Staff workload pressures compound the challenges in delivering quality services consistently. This is particularly complex for the smaller teams in rural locations. Staff welcome the support that is available via their line managers but local managers have insufficient capacity to effectively oversee the quality of work done by team members. Many staff report that the learning and development available do not always meet their needs.
  • Service provision to support rehabilitation is well developed and there are mechanisms in place to keep provision under review. The CRC engages well with strategic partners in Wales. This is resource intensive, but the investment is in line with the CRC’s aim to enable individuals to access relevant services, both during the period of supervision and beyond. The CRC commissions services based on an analysis of needs and assessments of the effectiveness of services.
  • Information and communication technology (ICT) facilities do not adequately support practitioners in their day-to-day work. Management information systems are used well to understand performance. Relevant policies and practice guidance are in place. The estates strategy promotes delivering services in innovative ways, such as community hubs. Not all buildings have been upgraded satisfactorily. The CRC faces ICT challenges and these have impeded progress in delivering services in line with the operating model’s expectations.

Case supervision

  • In the period leading up to the inspection, the CRC implemented the newly imposed contractual requirement for minimum levels of face-to-face contact with individuals. This resulted in cases and staff being transferred out of the operational hubs and into community teams. Overall, more progress on improving the nature and frequency of contact with individuals is needed. Practitioners use the BRAG (blue, red, amber, green) case assessment system as a method of controlling the allocation of their time. We found many cases of staff offering contact levels above those envisaged under the BRAG system. Risk of harm classifications are sound.
  • The emphasis for many staff is on providing practical assistance and enabling individuals to access a range of services. Staff engage well with individuals and offer more than appears in the records. Assessments focus on engagement and diversity. However, poor recording practice too often results in an inadequate description of the nature of the work being done with individuals.
  • Planning for work to address the risk of harm was not good enough in too many cases. Plans often did not adequately address how best to keep actual and potential victims safe. Plans were not always personalised and did not build on protective factors. Contingency planning was weak.
  • Hubs promote active and inclusive face-to-face engagement with individuals.
  • Work to manage non-compliance was well recorded.
  • The quality of work to review progress in cases was variable. Individuals under supervision were not consistently involved in reflecting on how their risk of harm had, or had not, changed.

Unpaid work

Arrangements for unpaid work focused on supporting the individual’s engagement and compliance with the sentence. Unpaid work promoted opportunities for participants’ personal development. The sentences of the courts were being
implemented appropriately. The arrangements for unpaid work did not sufficiently maximise the opportunity for
the service user’s personal development, however.

Through the gate

Through the Gate staff engaged well with prisoners but resettlement planning did not focus sufficiently on risk of harm issues. Improvements are also needed in the coordination of resettlement activity.

Conclusion

The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: excellent, good, requires improvement and poor. This is the seventeenth inspection of a CRC under the new rating system; one area was rated “good”, one “inadequate” and fifteen areas including Wales have been rated in the second to lowest band: “requiring improvement”. A glance at my unofficial probation league table below shows that Wales CRC is one of the worse performing private probation companies.

As readers know, the probation service is currently being re-designed again and the current 21 CRCs will be replaced by 11 Innovation Partners, responsible for delivering unpaid work and accredited programmes, but no longer offender management. We shall have to wait and see whether Seetec bids to be the Innovation Partner in Wales when the MoJ procurement competition opens this Autumn.

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All Probation Posts are sponsored by Unilink

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