Some good practice, but high workloads and poor public protection work
A probation service in Warwickshire and West Mercia is performing well in some areas but needs to do more to support rehabilitation and protect the public, according to an official report published today.
HM Inspectorate of Probation conducted a routine inspection of Warwickshire and West Mercia Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). The Inspectorate looked at 10 aspects of the CRC’s work and has given the organisation an overall rating of ‘Requires improvement’.
Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “Warwickshire and West Mercia CRC performed well on three out of ten of our quality standards. But on the remaining seven, we found room for improvement.”
Inspectors were pleased to find more than two-thirds of inspected cases were managed by qualified officers or trainees – well above the average for other CRCs. The assessment of cases was also a strength; more than 80 per cent of inspected assessments included relevant details about why individuals committed offences and the factors that could help them to avoid further offending. The supervision of people sentenced to unpaid work in the community and support to individuals leaving prison were also found to be effective and were rated ‘Good’.
The Inspectorate found staff at all levels are passionate about delivering a good service. Probation staff are particularly skilled at engaging individuals under supervision and ensuring they comply with their community orders or licences after leaving prison.
Mr Russell said: “However, the CRC needs to ensure individuals complete planned work that will help them to move away from further offending. The CRC also needs to improve its approach to keeping people safe. Probation staff are not focussing sufficiently on protecting victims and potential victims, and some aspects of their work to safeguard children leaves me with concern.”
Inspectors interviewed front-line staff and managers and conducted an in-depth analysis of a large sample of individual cases. They found that while staff worked to provide a high-quality service, managers lacked the capacity to support that work and less than half the staff interviewed said their workload was manageable.
Inspectors found wide variation in the overall quality of case management between local teams and that too little work was done to improve family life and relationships. Drug rehabilitation and testing requirements were not being implemented consistently.
Mr Russell said: “Individuals being supervised complete too little work to reduce the likelihood that they will reoffend. The right work was delivered at the right time in only half of the cases we looked at.”
Inspectors also found the CRC faced challenges in delivering accredited programmes. Judges and magistrates can order perpetrators to complete these evidence-based programmes as part of their sentence, with the aim of changing their behaviour.
Mr Russell said: “We found individuals faced long waits to start their accredited programmes. It was not uncommon for individuals to wait between six months and a year to join a course for perpetrators of domestic abuse. It is unsurprising to see that only a third of starters completed the course last year.”
The CRC supervises nearly 3,000 low and medium-risk offenders across four counties: Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire. It is owned by PeoplePlus, a private company.
The Inspectorate has made seven recommendations with the aim of improving the CRC’s performance.
Mr Russell concluded: “I hope that senior leaders will work quickly to take account of the findings of this inspection They have shown they can deliver in some areas – now they need to deliver across the whole of what they do.”
Further details of the report’s findings are set out below.
Inspectors organised their key findings under three main headings: organisational delivery; case supervision and unpaid work & through-the-gate.
- The CRC has a dynamic approach to responding to information about the quality of its performance, acting promptly to understand and address any deficiencies identified.
- Joint work with key stakeholders has led to improvements in service provision.
- The organisation makes sure that its complex cases are managed by professionally qualified practitioners and has a good ratio of probation officers to probation services officers – significantly higher than other CRCs.
- The CRC’s residential alternative to custody programme for women, delivered by Willodene Farm, is the first of its kind. It has had a long relationship with local probation services and receives positive feedback from service users and partners.
- Practitioners work enthusiastically to provide high-quality probation services; however, they are not engaged in the CRC’s decisions and are disaffected by ongoing changes.
- Managers lack capacity to support effectively the work and wellbeing of staff. Less than half the staff we interviewed said that their workload was manageable.
- There is too little focus on equality, diversity and inclusion.
- Service provision is decided and negotiated locally. This has led to inconsistencies between local delivery units (LDUs) in the quality of service provision. The lack of a cohesive approach has an impact on the CRC’s ability
to assure itself that interventions are evidence based, effective and based on identified need.
- There are long waits to start accredited programmes. It is not uncommon for individuals to wait between six months and a year to participate in a Building Better Relationships (BBR) course. And for those who do start, only one-third of requirements are completed successfully.
- The CRC’s failure to adopt flexible working limits its ability to work effectively with some of the most vulnerable individuals and complex cases it manages.
- Practitioners work well to support engagement and compliance.
- Over 80 per cent of the assessments we examined focused sufficiently on understanding factors linked to desistance and offending – the best we have seen to date in a CRC.
- Individuals being supervised complete too little work to reduce the likelihood that they will reoffend. The right work was delivered at the right time in only half of the cases we looked at.
- Work to understand and address factors linked to risk of harm to others falls well below our expectations.
- There is a lack of understanding about the potential for harm to children, and the quality of work necessary to keep them safe.
- There is considerable variation across the CRC in the overall quality of case management.
- The CRC acts quickly and effectively to enable and encourage individuals to fulfil successfully the unpaid work obligation imposed by the court.
- The CRC is not able to meet its obligation to provide education, training and employment as part of its unpaid work offer.
- The quality of unpaid work arrangements for women varies between LDUs.
Through the gate
- The CRC works well strategically with prisons and commissioned services to improve access to resettlement services in custody.
- Resettlement activity is not tailored to meet the specific needs of individuals leaving custody, and takes too little account of the need to keep others safe.
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.