Inspectors find private probation in Northants “poor”

Inspectors report on Northamptonshire

The National Probation Service (NPS) was supervising people who posed a higher risk reasonably well, but the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) needed to do far more to protect the public and reduce reoffending.

That is the headline quote from Dame Glenys Stacey, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation, in a press release accompanying the second probation inspection report  in two days, this one into probation services in Northamptonshire which was published earlier today (20 April 2017). (See my summary of yesterday’s Gwent inspection report here.)

This is the first inspection of adult probation work undertaken by a CRC owned by Sodexo Justice Services, in partnership with Nacro (the partnership operates CRCs in Cumbria & Lancashire, Northumbria, South Yorkshire, Norfolk & Suffolk, Essex and the rest of the Northants, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire).

Overall findings

Although, inspectors were impressed by aspects of what they considered “an innovative operating model which was designed to fully engage people who have committed crimes and address their readiness to change”, they concluded:

Overall, the work of the CRC in Northamptonshire was not good enough. The CRC was not sufficiently focused on public protection. Too many cases were assigned to staff without the skills and support needed to investigate and respond to the risk of harm an individual posed. There was a lack of oversight and quality assurance. Work to reduce reoffending was poor. Responsible officers did too little to understand what led to offending behaviour and therefore couldn’t put plans in place to turn people’s lives around.

As we have come to expect, the inspectors assessed the work of the National Probation Service much more favourably:

Generally the NPS’s work to protect the public was good, and they worked effectively with the police. Their work to reduce reoffending was acceptable, but more could be done on tackling substance misuse. The NPS did not always provide the CRC with enough information at the beginning of sentences, causing extra work for the CRC in order to be able to manage its cases effectively.

More detailed findings are set out below.

Findings — CRC

The main inspectors’ findings of the work of the CRC were:

  • Overall, the quality of work was poor.
  • The CRC was not sufficiently focused on public protection. Too many cases were assigned to staff without the skills and support needed to investigate, recognise and respond effectively to risk of harm. Too little work was being delivered to reduce the likelihood of domestic abuse, and there were shortcomings in the consistency and effectiveness of joint working with the police and children’s social care services, leaving victims and their children more vulnerable than necessary.
  • Responsible officers did too little to understand the key factors linked to service users’ offending behaviour. This led to limited sentence planning. There was greater focus on meeting sentence planning targets than meaningfully engaging with service users to get the plan right. Progress was slow and in many cases there were delays in delivering the interventions service users needed to support their desistance from offending.
  • There was a lack of leadership, oversight and quality assurance for public protection work. Responsible officers were confused about the guidance available and how to access it, and unsure of the range of interventions available to help them manage risk of harm.
  • Inspectors were concerned at the lack of privacy in open booths used for confidential interviews, and at the prospect that some people would be supervised solely by telephone contact or biometric reporting.
  • There were examples of innovative practice to encourage service users to comply with their sentences. Some responsible officers had an excellent rapport with service users, and were taking account of their individual needs and striving to remove barriers to
    engagement. Others had no relationship with them. This is quite at odds with the CRC’s operating model intentions, and in a number of cases it was uncertain whether the CRC would deliver the legal requirements of the sentence.

The graphic below combines performance for both NPS and CRC:

 

Findings — NPS

The main inspectors’ findings of the work of the NPS were:

  • Generally, the quality of work was good. National policies and procedures were promoted at senior management level and were being followed. Responsible officers made good decisions about how to address the risk of harm posed by individuals.
  • There were inconsistencies in the quantity, timeliness and quality of interventions delivered, however. There were also gaps in partnership working, especially with regard to safeguarding children. As a result, some service users completed their sentences without having fulfilled all requirements.
  • Initial assessments and plans reflected the needs of the case and represented the views and aspirations of service users. Individuals were making sufficient progress in many key areas related to their offending. There was, however, a lack of consistency in the type of work being delivered, and limited focus on tackling substance misuse, or addressing poor lifestyle choices.
  • Responsible officers engaged well with service users, taking account of their individual needs and removing barriers to engagement. As is usual for NPS cases, a large proportion of service users were reluctant to comply with their sentences,
    however, and this inevitably inhibited progress and led to non-compliance. The NPS did not always take suitable action to address non-attendance, non-compliance and other inappropriate behaviours and was sometimes slow to take cases back to court.

Findings — Co-ordination between NPS and CRC

Overall levels of co-operation and co-ordination between both probation agencies did not appear to be working as well as in other areas recently inspected:

  • There were sufficient links between the CRC’s administrative hub and the NPS courts team to make sure information from court was recorded and available to CRC responsible officers. There were, however, ongoing issues relating to the quality of  this information.
  • Access to accredited programmes had been constrained by staffing shortages in the CRC’s programmes team. Access to three central programmes was restricted, leaving service users unable to fulfil the requirements of their sentences and without the benefit of suitable interventions.
  • The NPS was not routinely using interventions available from the CRC. Both the NPS and CRC acknowledged the need to improve communication relating to CRC interventions, but meetings between them had not addressed the issues effectively.
  • Relationships were strained at an operational level between the CRC and NPS. Breach procedures had become complex with the CRC’s hub central to the administration of processes. This left some practitioners confused about roles and responsibilities as well as the process.

Conclusion

Overall then, inspectors have found once again that the CRC were performing much less satisfactorily than its NPS counterpart. As with its report into Gwent, the inspectorate has made it clear that it does not view the practice of supervising offenders by telephone or biometric reporting alone as acceptable.

As usual, I leave the last work to the Chief Inspector, Dame Glenys Stacey:

We found that the CRC’s work was simply not good enough. Too little is being done to reduce the risk of someone committing a further offence, or to minimise risk to the public. Local leaders are committed, but stretched, and don’t have a good enough grasp on the quality of work actually being delivered to turn people away from crime.

Like some others, Sodexo’s efforts to bring in new ways of working have faltered, causing real problems for staff and for those being managed by probation services alike. Sodexo’s proposed model has some promising and innovative features, but I remain concerned about any model that provides for those under probation supervision to be seen rarely, if at all.

The public can be assured that the NPS are managing high risk cases well overall, but I was disappointed to see that the quality of work varied across the area. We have found this elsewhere, and the NPS now has the opportunity to make sure offices perform consistently well in future.

You can see my summary of the findings of the first nine probation inspection reports post-TR in infographic format here.

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