Today’s (10 January 2018) probation inspectors’ report on the London division of the National Probation Service finds an improving service albeit with some persistent weaknesses.
Unlike recent inspection reports, this report focuses solely on the NPS and not the private Community Rehabilitation Company which works with low and medium risk offenders.
More detailed findings are set out below:
Protecting the public
Overall, the quality of NPS public protection work was good. Assessments focused on the right issues and informed good planning.
However, timely information on child and adult safeguarding was often not available, and some staff lacked relevant training. Information was exchanged well with the police. Staff did not always review plans to reflect changes or progress. Sound arrangements were in place to address the risk of involvement in terrorism, organised crime and gangs, which were additional complexities for offender management in London.
Overall, managers had a sound appreciation of what needed to improve.
The quality of work delivered to reduce reoffending was variable. Initial sentence planning identified the right issues. However, too many cases lacked structured interventions. Access to suitable accommodation was difficult. There was effective communication with mental health, drug and alcohol services, and with employment, education and training partners. Bespoke services for women were poor.
Reviews were not carried out reliably and service users were not involved often enough in planning or reviewing the work they were required to do.
Abiding by the sentence
The quality of work overall was sufficient. The NPS worked well to explore alternatives to enforcement and took appropriate action when service users did not comply. Good attention was paid to recording attendance. However, individual needs were not always addressed.
Working together with the CRC
The relationship between the CRC and the NPS was improving, from a low base. The NPS had yet to make best use of the CRC’s services. There was a commitment at senior management level to bringing about improvement. The risk escalation process had improved. The CRC had increased the number of cases being enforced at court, which had stretched the capacity of the NPS.
The inspectors made seven recommendations, reproduced in full here:
The National Probation Service should:
1: improve how it shares and uses information to better assess and manage child and adult safeguarding;
2: improve the services for women so that their needs are met across London;
3: collate a directory of local services and structured one-to-one interventions available in London;
4: promote a better understanding of rehabilitation activity requirement days and how to access the CRC services; and
5: provide post-qualification support in accordance with existing guidance for newly qualified officers.
Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service should:
6: provide better guidance to court staff on the advice they should give about the ‘safe to sentence’ process when safeguarding information is unavailable on the day.
The Ministry of Justice should:
7: resolve the problems with the Single Operating Platform, so that NPS directors are provided with timely, accurate management information about their workforce.
Chief Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey summarised the progress made since a damning inspection report into the work of the NPS and CRC in North London in 2016:
There were encouraging signs of improvement, but more still to be done. Importantly, we found an appetite for improvement: the leadership team knew what needed to be done.
She also highlighted two issues of particular concern:
Insufficient attention was paid to addressing offenders’ diverse needs, of grave concern given the obvious diversity of London’s population. Inspectors drew attention to poor performance in addressing the needs of women well enough.
Management efforts to ensure all NPS London staff were suitably trained, and to fill vacancies, were undermined by a lack of essential workforce information arising from “a longstanding systems failure” in the Ministry of Justice’s IT support network; deemed “inexplicable” in Dame Glenys’ judgement.
Despite much heartening progress, I continue to be disappointed that London, like many other NPS divisions seems to be performing much more poorly on promoting desistance than it is on public protection. I am of an age and vintage which believes that these two aspirations should be closely interconnected.