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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

New probation still undermined by information sharing problems

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Although this is a coherent strategy, many remain disappointed that there has yet been little focus on the quality of work being delivered or on the progress of the new Through the Gate (TTG) resettlement services to short-term prisoners.

Fourth inspection into new probation system

It’s only two months since the Probation Inspectors produced their third report into the implementation of Transforming Rehabilitation but last Friday (15th January 2016), they published their fourth :  Transforming Rehabilitation – Early Implementation 4: an Independent Inspection of the Arrangements for Offender Supervision.

 The report is based on findings from inspections undertaken in July and August 2015. Inspectors focused on work undertaken at the point of sentence and allocation by the National Probation Service (NPS), work undertaken by the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and the NPS to manage offenders, and the interfaces between the two organisations. This included work with those released on licence.

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Chief Inspector’s approach to TR

Paul Wilson, the Probation Chief Inspector, in the press release accompanying the publication of the inspection report, announced that the inspectors’ primary focus continues to be on the systems and processes which underpin the quality of service and impact on rehabilitation. He reasons:

No-one should underestimate the importance of systems which are the foundation of the operating models of the National Probation Service (NPS) and Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and govern the flows of work between them.

Although this is a coherent strategy, many remain disappointed that there has yet been little focus on the quality of work being delivered or on the progress of the new Through the Gate (TTG) resettlement services to short-term prisoners.

However, Wilson did commit to report on TTG early in 2016 and revealed that:

Early scoping work suggests that implementation of some schemes in prisons and in the community has been slow and it is not yet clear how the delivery models planned by all CRCs will meet complex resettlement needs. The present rather disjointed provision is a long way from the seamless Through the Gate service so essential to the challenge of reducing high reoffending rates for this group.

The Chief Inspector clarified that he sees the “transitional period” for the implementation of TR ending early in 2016 and that from then the NPS and CRCs should then be fully held to account for their work. He announces that:

The inspection regime will change markedly in April 2016. Our new Quality & Impact inspections will focus on the effectiveness of the new probation organisations in reducing offending, protecting the public and ensuring individuals abide by the sentence of the court.

4th inspection of transforming rehabilitation

Findings

Given the scale of the changes involved, it is not surprising that many of the recommendations from earlier reports still apply. Nevertheless, inspectors were pleased to find that some progress had been made in the following areas:

  • The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) had issued national guidance which removed the requirement to complete fully the Case Allocation System process for those cases where the allocation to the NPS is mandatory;
  • The NPS was putting a robust and timely risk management plan in place for all high risk of serious harm cases;
  • The NPS was ensuring that there was a sufficient full initial assessment of the risks medium- and high-risk offenders posed, particularly to children;
  • The NPS was undertaking home visits where appropriate, to manage medium- and high-risk offenders; and
  • CRCs were providing appointments with an offender manager as part of group or duty inductions.

However, many of the challenges identified in earlier inspections remain and some of the recommendations made in previous reports are still relevant. In particular:

  • NOMS should explore the possibility of allowing joint access to the nDelius record for a short period after transfer so that incoming information can be handled efficiently;
  • The NPS and CRCs must ensure that relevant information held by either party is shared efficiently at the court hearing stage;
  • The NPS should establish a quality assurance system to improve the accuracy of the completion of the Risk of Serious Recidivism tool;
  • If it is not possible at the time of allocation to gather all the necessary relevant information from partner agencies, NPS staff should clearly indicate on the Case Allocation System what steps have been taken to gather that information and what is required to complete the full analysis;
  • CRCs should improve the quality of full risk of harm assessments;
  • CRCs should ensure they have effective management oversight structures in place for cases where there are concerns over the level of risk of harm; and
  • CRC managers must ensure that offenders engage with their assigned officer at the earliest opportunity.

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Progress needed

In order to drive improvements, inspectors made further recommendations, including:

  1. The NPS and CRCs should ensure that in all relevant cases sufficient progress is made to reduce those factors making the offender more likely to reoffend;
  2. The NPS should improve the availability of information provided by other agencies to ensure as much of the Case Allocation System can be completed prior to allocation of the case; and
  3. CRCs should ensure that in all cases where required there is a sufficient review of the risk of harm assessment and management plan.

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Conclusion

Given that this inspection report is based on fieldwork which took place only 6-7 months after the new private providers took over delivering probation services to low and medium risk offenders, it is no surprise that these teething issues still persist.

However, as the Chief Inspector says, the transition period can reasonably be said to be getting to its end and it is to be hoped that inspection reports later this year give a much clearer sense of what quality and effectiveness of service new providers are delivering.

 

For further information on TR, check out my free resource pack.

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