Service improving but still not good enough
A probation service in the north of England has made steady progress over the last year, according to probation inspectors in a report published today.
HM Inspectorate of Probation visited Northumbria Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) last September. The CRC works with more than 3,700 medium and low-risk offenders who are preparing to leave or who have left prison, or who are serving community sentences.
Inspectors looked at 10 aspects of the CRC’s work and have given an overall rating of ‘Requires improvement’.
Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “We returned to Northumbria CRC a little over a year after our last inspection. Although we have given the CRC the same rating again, we found that much had improved.
“The management team has made concerted efforts to address the concerns we raised with them in 2018. These efforts are starting to pay dividends, although there is still more to do.”
Inspectors found positive progress with more detailed assessments of cases, more face-to-face meetings with people under supervision and a welcome end to telephone-only contact.
There was also better access to buildings and improvements to services for victims. The CRC has received additional funding from central government and is now delivering good-quality work with people preparing to leave prison.
Inspectors found an “impressive” range of services in place to help individuals move away from further offending. This included support with issues such as housing, alcohol and substance misuse, and bespoke services for women and military veterans.
The Inspectorate, however, concluded more work needs to be done to improve the handling of risk of harm issues. Inspectors have rated all four aspects of case supervision as ‘Requires improvement’.
Mr Russell said:
“The public wants to see professional and assured work by probation services to keep people safe from harm.
In some of the inspected cases, probation staff identified risks but did not analyse or explore issues in more depth. We would have liked to have seen a greater degree of professional curiosity. We also found too little consideration was given to victims.
In cases where we expected to see home visits, only a third were completed. Probation officers are missing out on the opportunity to see people in their home environment. This information could help to keep others, such as partners and children, safer.
We urge the CRC to drive further improvements to protect the public from harm.”
Last year, the government announced that the National Probation Service will take over the management of all offenders from 2021 onwards. Northumbria CRC – which is currently managed by Sodexo Justice Services – will no longer operate along with 20 other CRCs across England and Wales. Inspectors were pleased to see the CRC is continuing to invest in training probation officers and is taking proactive steps to support staff.
The Inspectorate has made eight recommendations with the aim of improving the quality of probation services across Northumbria.
Inspectors organised their key findings under three main headings: organisational delivery; case supervision and unpaid work & through-the-gate.
Inspectors’ main findings on this domain were positive. With a clear vision, purpose and set of values, the governance of the CRC is sound. It has an effective operating model, on which staff and partners are clear. It has aligned its objectives to local voluntary and statutory partners, and the leadership team has nurtured positive relationships with stakeholders. There is an optimism in Northumbria which is described as ‘infectious’. We take this to be a sign of good leadership. Key strengths of the organisation are as follows:
There are excellent relationships with partners.
- There is almost full staffing, with a stable and committed workforce who feel well supported.
- Individuals are well engaged, both in their supervision and in improving services. Telephone-only contact has been stopped, leading to more face-to face-contact.
- There is a strong commitment to, and track record of, training new probation officers.
- Quality approaches are beginning to show improvements in practice.
The main areas for improvement are as follows:
- Induction and training arrangements do not adequately prepare new staff to practise in probation.
- Management oversight is not yet effective.
- The CRC does not systematically analyse its data, to check that services and practices are fair and equitable.
- There is not enough private space to conduct in-depth or challenging interventions.
- The Blyth office does not have appropriate toilet facilities for people visiting the premises.
Inspectors were critical about the core probation task of supervising offenders. Northumbria CRC has achieved an overall rating of ‘Requires improvement’ for its case management, as all of its work, in assessing, planning, interventions and reviewing, fell short of the ‘Good’ threshold (that two-thirds of cases should be managed satisfactorily). This was due to shortcomings in relation to keeping other people safe across all four key areas.
Key strengths of case supervision are as follows:
- Responsible officers engage people well.
- The CRC has made a significant improvement in the assessment of people’s offending-related needs, using information from other agencies to build on this assessment and put improved plans in place.
- The CRC has demonstrated significant improvements in how it tackles risk of harm to others.
Areas of case supervision requiring improvement include:
- Risk of harm is still not managed robustly enough, and contingency planning is particularly weak.
- Victims are not considered sufficiently.
- Home visits are not taking place in enough cases and this has had an impact on the CRC’s ability to keep other people safe.
- Responsible officers need to build effective relationships with individuals before they leave prison.
Unpaid work and through-the-gate
- The orders of the courts start promptly and are managed well.
- Worksites run safely, with due consideration to people’s individual circumstances.
- Supervisors are professional and act as good role models.
Areas for improvement of unpaid work are:
- Unpaid work assessments are not personalised.
- The CRC has problems in the way that it transfers information about risk of harm to worksites.
- The CRC has used the 20 per cent allowance, available for learning and skills development, too freely.
- There is not enough variety in the group placements available.
- Education, training and employment opportunities are underdeveloped.
Key strengths of through-the-gate are:
- The Through the Gate service is firmly strengths based, and focused on building upon the positive elements in people’s lives.
- The CRC has formed productive relationships within the local prisons, and has used these to deliver good services.
- Through the Gate staff work flexibly, to ensure that services are delivered consistently in all locations.
- Collaborative working between Shelter, Changing Lives and the CRC staff ensures a seamless service.
Areas for improvement of Through the Gate are:
- The transfer of information is not robust enough.
- Staff based in Her Majesty’s Prisons Durham and Northumberland do not have sufficient access to risk information.
- Within resettlement plans, not enough attention is paid to keeping the public safe.
The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: excellent, good, requires improvement and poor. While it is pleasing to see Northumbria CRC make improvements to performance even during a time when they know that the CRC will be wound up over the next year, it remains disappointing that the service is still rated as “requiring improvement”.
Nevertheless, Northumbria has now achieved 17 points in my unofficial probation league table, when it was previously languishing on 12: