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Group of electricians using an OHM meter to test voltage in an industrial power center.  All work being performed according to industry code and safety standards.  (note to inspector: OHMS on the meter is a unit of measurement not a trademark)
Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Poor private probation performance leaves Londoners at risk

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Latest probation inspectors' report most critical so far of performance of new privatised system. North Londoners at risk because of poor service provided by CRC.

Poor work means public more at risk

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.

That is the overall verdict of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation on the work delivered by the Community Rehabilitation Company in North London in a report published today (14 December 2016).

The inspectors’ verdict on the work being delivered by the National Probation Service was less critical:

The National Probation Service was delivering services better, but with plenty of room for improvement. The quality of work was mixed, but inspectors were pleased to find that, overall, public protection work was satisfactory.

This is the fifth area inspection after the probation changes brought in by Transforming Rehabilitation. Three of the first five area inspections have been very critical of the work delivered by their respective CRCs (see the first inspection of Durham and the third inspection of Derbyshire).

The CRC in London is owned and operated by MTCnovo.

Findings – CRC

The report does acknowledge some good work by individual workers but makes a very critical overall assessment; identifying a number of failings:

  • Significant information was not always recognised as such and there was a lack of awareness of domestic abuse and child safeguarding issues.
  • Individual caseloads varied significantly. Some were, in our view, unreasonable and unmanageable. Low levels of contact with service users, coupled with inadequate systems to monitor the frequency of contact inevitably and materially affected the quality of work to protect the public.
  • The inexperience of some staff coupled with a lack of management support made this problem more acute in some cases. Senior management appreciation of these difficulties, and plans to resolve them were either absent altogether or else inadequate in our view.
  • The proportion of work carried out to a sufficient standard was low. There was an alarming lack of contact in too many cases: assessments had not been carried out, planning had not taken place and little work to reduce reoffending had been delivered.
  • Delivery of the legal requirements of the court orders and licences, procedures relating to non-compliance and the number of appointments offered were all unsatisfactory.
  • Most service users had not received a service that met their needs or was likely to help them to stop reoffending.

The graphic below combines performance for both NPS and CRC:

Findings – NPS

Although the Inspectorate assessed the performance of the NPS more favourably, there was considerable variation:

  • Most public protection work was carried out sufficiently well but the quality of assessment, planning and interventions was mixed.
  • Attention needed to be focused more sharply on public protection and in particular on the formal review of cases, and recognising and responding to significant changes in individuals’ circumstances.
  • Performance in the NPS was mixed. The majority of offending behaviour work was done to an acceptable standard but a noticeable proportion was not.
  • Not all pre-sentence reports were of good enough quality and a small number did not include relevant safeguarding information, leaving sentencers  ill-informed. Sentence planning and reviewing progress also needed to improve. The delivery of work to reduce reoffending was not always focused on the relevant factors.
  • Work to encourage engagement and to enforce non-compliance was generally carried out well. Individual diversity was largely taken into account and most service users were meaningfully involved in planning.

Findings – Co-ordination between CRC & NPS

Although the press release accompanying the inspection stated that the CRC and the NPS were “working reasonably well together”; the report itself notes a number of difficulties in co-ordinating service delivery:

  • There were some obvious tensions between the CRC and the NPS. The quality of case allocation forms and risk assessments prepared at court by the NPS was acknowledged to be variable at best and poor at times. Failure by the NPS to provide detailed information caused difficulties for responsible officers in both organisations but particularly in the CRC. The NPS was working hard to improve this but felt that expectations of what could be achieved within the court timescales were unrealistic.
  • Risk escalation was another area of work that had required ongoing management attention to make sure that relevant cases were escalated and accepted.
  • The NPS found obtaining information from the CRC about their service users in court difficult because of a mismatch between the two organisations’ operating models. The NPS grouped cases by geographical location, whereas the CRC allocated work according to the category of service user (older male, young adult male etc.), making it difficult for the NPS to identify the relevant CRC office for supervision.
  • Working relationships were strained. So for example, CRC breach action requires the preparation of information by the CRC for presentation by the NPS, and there were tensions when NPS enforcement officers considered the information provided inadequate, or CRC staff considered a rejection pedantic, unhelpful or unnecessary.

Conclusion

This is the most critical report of probation performance since the Transforming Rehabilitation split into a public/private service. As the Inspectors make clear, probation performance in London has been poor for many years:

Delivering probation services in London is challenging. Around 17% of all those under probation supervision nationally live in the capital. Probation services in London have long struggled with high workloads. Inspectors last inspected London probation services in 2014, when services did not compare well with others in England and Wales, but the basics of probation were being delivered sufficiently well in most cases.

Nevertheless, performance has clearly worsened post-TR; as usual, I leave the last word to Chief Inspector Glenys Stacey:

Delivering probation services in London is never an easy task, but services have deteriorated of late, largely due to the poor performance of the London Community Rehabilitation Company. Services are now well below what people rightly expect, and the city is more at risk as a result. We expect the company to make every effort now to deliver the inviolable requirements – the basics of probation – consistently well, and as quickly as possible. We welcome work begun during our inspection to begin to bring about much needed improvements, and will be back in 2017 to check on progress.

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