"Notable improvement from a very low base"
Those two quotes are the headline findings from today’s (8 February 2018) probation inspectors’ report on the London Community Rehabilitation Company.
Regular readers will remember that HMI Probation’s last inspection of London CRC (which covered only North London and was published in December 2016) was extremely critical:
Probation services in the north of London had deteriorated and work by the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) responsible for managing low and medium-risk offenders was poor. People were more at risk as a result, and this was unacceptable.
The current inspection was pan-London and scrutinised far more cases. Dame Glenys said the London CRC had used the 2016 recommendations as a catalyst for change, moving from an operating model which grouped offenders in London-wide cohorts, according to age and gender, to a more traditional approach based on local teams, working with local agencies.
More detailed findings are set out below.
Protecting the public
The quality of public protection work was variable and not of an acceptable standard overall.
The CRC has made clear progress since 2016. The quality of work is improving but it is still not satisfactory. Senior managers acknowledge that they are still implementing effective risk management arrangements.
Most assessments focused on the right things, but many of the issues identified were not reflected in plans. We noted improvements in responding to changing circumstances in relation to risk of harm, but plans were not always reviewed to reflect these changes or the individual’s progress.
In too many cases, there was an inadequate response to public protection concerns, and too few included interventions focused on protecting those at risk of harm. Some staff were not confident in addressing aspects of public protection and not all were doing this work to a good enough standard. Despite management oversight taking place, staff did not produce quality work in too many cases. We noted the positive contribution to public protection work of contracted providers and partners, however.
The quality of work is not acceptable. We found significant improvements in several aspects of practice but, overall, services did not sufficiently support rehabilitation.
Our inspection findings showed that the quality of work was close to the national average for those CRCs that we have inspected. Although that level of performance is not in itself acceptable, this is impressive progress in a short period of time. The improvements were in elements of core probation practice: producing assessments and plans, and seeing individuals under probation supervision.
Most assessments of individuals were of sufficient quality, but they did not always feed into plans of work. Individuals were not involved sufficiently in planning or reviewing the work being done.
A greater proportion of people were receiving specialist services (interventions) than in 2016, but this still fell short of being satisfactory.
Abiding by the sentence
The quality of work was acceptable overall. Most individuals abided by the conditions of their sentence. The CRC took appropriate action in response to non-compliance, and undertook enforcement when appropriate in most cases.
Contact levels were satisfactory in most cases. The quality of engagement varied, however, and staff did not always ensure that the diverse needs of those they supervised were met. The arrangements for unpaid work were poor.
Working relations with the NPS
Working relationships and formal reporting systems had improved since our last inspection. An interface agreement between the London CRC and NPS promoted effective work between the two organisations. Risk escalation arrangements had improved.
NPS take-up of services (interventions) on offer from the CRC was low. Delays in implementing the London CRC rate card meant that details of services were not made available to the NPS in good time. The situation was exacerbated by a lack of confidence among some NPS staff in the quality of CRC services on offer
The inspectors made six recommendations, reproduced in full here:
The London Community Rehabilitation Company should:
- Ensure, in all cases, that responsible officers identify the risk of harm posed by individuals and deliver plans of work that protect the public sufficiently.
- Improve the range, volume, quality, and take-up of interventions to better address individuals’ rehabilitation needs.
- Deliver unpaid work effectively.
- Improve local strategic relationships with partners, to support the delivery of services and the safeguarding of children.
- Ensure all practitioners have the training, skills and knowledge needed to undertake their duties.
- Use management information to better understand and manage the workloads of staff, staff engagement and the tensions inherent in delivering a large-scale performance improvement project.
Probation Inspectors found that the London CRC still relied “too much for comfort” on agency staff and was in the middle of a large-scale performance improvement project. However, it was now turning its attention to two other key tenets of good probation services: local strategic partnerships, and the range of specialist services (interventions) required to make a real difference to people’s lives and prospects.
The report found that critical relationships with local strategic partners suffered under the CRC’s previous operating model, but CRC leaders were now taking the opportunity now to re-energise these essential networks. Inspectors also noted that the consistent provision of specialist services is particularly difficult in London, where the funding and other priorities of 32 individual boroughs and the Mayor’s office can differ. However, the CRC had “well-developed” plans to increase the range and quality of its rehabilitative services.
Summing up, Dame Glenys said:
Individual caseloads have reduced when compared with those we saw in North London a year ago. We gauge that staff morale is better overall. And… we are in no doubt that the quality of work has improved from a very low base, and is still improving. Public protection and rehabilitative work are still not good enough, but rehabilitative work is at least comparable in quality to the average in other CRCs we have inspected. That is not acceptable – as that average is itself unacceptable, in our view – but it is a notable improvement and achievement for this CRC and its staff. There is much more for this CRC to do, but it has made significant progress over the last year.