Good but struggling with high caseloads
Inspectors found the National Probation Service (NPS) in Wales, supervising nearly 7,000 high-risk offenders, to have dynamic, effective leaders and enthusiastic staff committed to high-quality work. However, like other parts of the NPS across England and Wales, the service in Wales suffered from a shortage of probation officers, meaning some staff had unacceptably high workloads, despite the leadership’s efforts to mitigate the impact of shortages.
A report published today (17 April 2019) recommended that the NPS prioritise recruiting sufficient staff. Inspectors assessed NPS Wales as ‘Good’ overall, the second-highest rating. Its case handling was mostly good and, in one respect, ‘Outstanding,’ the highest assessment.
Chief Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey said NPS Wales staff held leaders in high regard. “They feel there is a learning culture, and professional development is encouraged. Effective systems are in place to monitor and improve performance and the process of learning lessons from case reviews, audits and complaints was effective.” Despite shortages and high caseloads for some staff, overall morale was high and sickness levels were low.
“Stakeholder engagement is good and includes the Welsh Government as some services are devolved. A wide range of services is in place to meet offending-related needs – though access was limited in some rural areas.”
Inspectors found that pre-sentence reports assisted judges and magistrates to decide on the most appropriate sentence. Individual offenders were sufficiently involved in the planning and delivery of their sentence. Assessments identified and analysed offending-related factors and sentence planning was focused on keeping others safe. Work to keep sentences under review was outstanding.
Staff welcomed support which they felt had made them “far more psychologically informed and confident” to deal with offenders who had severe personality disorders and highly complex needs. Inspectors found a shortage of mental health provision across Wales but highlighted innovative training to inform staff about the impact of brain injury on individuals.
There were some shortfalls in NPS Wales, Dame Glenys added. Information from child and adult safeguarding agencies was not consistently requested and relevant information about individuals subject to supervision was not routinely shared with the prisons or police. There were “extremely lengthy delays” before individuals could start offending behaviour programmes. “Delays of this nature are plainly unacceptable.” Inspectors found long waiting lists to get onto Horizon, a nationally accredited group programme designed for medium-risk male sex offenders.
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 mainly positive:
- The leadership team is focused on delivering a high-quality service NPS in Wales; it has a clear strategy for delivering a high-quality service. Staff understand the business and delivery plans.
- Some probation officers’ workloads are too high. As with other NPS divisions, Wales has a shortage of qualified probation officers; almost half of probation officers had workloads that were too high for them to deliver a high-quality service consistently.
- Professional development is encouraged, but some staff felt that they did not have access to suitable training for their grade or role.
- There is a range of services to meet offending-related needs, but the division does not make full use of services commissioned through the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) and the lack of national training for programme facilitators in the NPS, has resulted in unacceptably long waiting lists for accredited programmes.
- There are good working relationships with the CRC and other main stakeholders. Despite this, information
exchange to manage individuals’ risk of harm was not always effective. The process that is in place is not understood or applied consistently by NPS staff.
- Management information is comprehensive but the centrally-managed facilities management contract is not working well; not all offices are sufficiently accessible to staff and service users. Effective systems are used to monitor and drive improvement. All staff have a good understanding of the performance of the division.Information and communications technology (ICT) systems enable staff to plan and deliver work promptly.
- Practitioners understood and analysed the reasons why individuals offended. Responsible officers involved individuals in their assessments, which focused on factors linked to their offending. The individual’s diversity and personal circumstances were considered appropriately. Information from other sources was used, where relevant. Practitioners correctly assessed the potential and actual risk of harm posed to others.
- Planning was good overall and focused sufficiently on keeping people safe. Individuals were included in the planning of their sentence. The plans took account of personal circumstances that may affect engagement and compliance. The plans reflected offending-related factors and prioritised the most critical. Plans to keep other people safe were satisfactory.
- Initial contact was prompt, but there was not always sufficient focus on addressing offence-related needs. Initial contact with individuals subject to supervision was made promptly after sentence. Levels of contact with those in the community and those in custody were good but there was not always sufficient focus on offence-related work. The waiting time before an individual could start an accredited programme was much too long in some instances.
- Reviews of progress were kept up to date. Assessments and plans were kept under review and individuals were involved in reviewing their progress. Changes to the plan were made in response to changes of risk of harm to others. Reviews paid sufficient attention to keeping others safe.
Court reports and case allocation
- The division has satisfactory arrangements in place for preparing court reports. Reports were of a good standard. The NPS strategic lead meets regularly with court team managers. Cases were allocated promptly to the probation provider, but in some cases they did not contain sufficient information to enable the provider to start supervision of the individual. Child and adult safeguarding information was not always requested, nor were risk of serious harm assessments completed in all relevant cases.
Statutory victim work
- The division has five dedicated Victim Contact Units which manage a total of 2,466 active cases. An excellent service was provided to those who opted into the victim contact scheme. Victims receive clear information about what to expect from the criminal justice system. Staff in the units receive regular updates about individuals who are sentenced and obtain information about licence conditions. Responsible officers work well with victim liaison workers, sharing information about an individual’s release from custody. Victim liaison workers are appropriately involved in MAPPAs.
The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: excellent, good, requires improvement and poor. This is the sixteenth inspection under the new rating system, but only the fourth of a NPS division. While the CRCs which have been inspected have all been rated as under-performing (eleven as “requiring improvement” and one as “inadequate”), all four NPS areas have been rated good.
However, there are growing concerns about HMPPS difficulties in recruiting sufficient staff, the latest workforce figures (21 February 2019), revealed that there were 17 fewer band 4 probation officers in post nationally on 31 December last year compared to a year earlier.
As you can see below, the Wales Division of NPS slots into second place in my unofficial probation league table.