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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Private probation failing domestic abuse victims

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Inspectors found CRC staff did not have the skills, experience or time to supervise perpetrators of domestic abuse properly.

Community Rehabilitation Companies are not doing enough to rehabilitate perpetrators of domestic abuse or keep victims safe.

That’s the verdict of today’s probation inspectors’ thematic report on domestic abuse: Domestic abuse: the work undertaken by Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs)

HM Inspectorate of Probation found poor practice was widespread in Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), which supervise low and medium-risk offenders across England and Wales.

Inspectors found probation staff did not have the skills, experience or time to supervise perpetrators properly.

In more than half (55 per cent) of the cases that inspectors looked at, perpetrators of domestic abuse were not making enough progress on their court orders. In too many cases, perpetrators were drifting through their probation periods, rather than getting the support and challenge they needed to change their behaviour.

The report also raises concerns about the role of probation staff in preventing future incidents. Probation staff tended to underestimate risks and work to protect victims and children was not good enough in seven out of ten cases (71 per cent).

Too often, home visits – which can help staff to assess the potential risk to partners and children – were considered a luxury. Inspectors found that in cases where a home visit should have taken place, fewer than one in five (19 per cent) had been completed.

Damning conclusions

Regular readers will be well aware that probation inspectors have produced a number of highly critical reports of probation, particularly CRC, provision since the implementation of the split public/private probation system known as Transforming Rehabilitation. 

However, even by this standard, today’s report is particularly damning as you can see below:

Chief Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey said some of the safeguarding practices that inspectors had uncovered were of “grave concern”. 

Dame Glenys said: “Too often, we were left wondering how safe victims and children were, especially when practitioners failed to act on new information indicating that they could be in danger.”

The Inspectorate was so concerned about seven cases that they asked the relevant CRCs to take immediate action to ensure the safety of victims and children. 

Inspectors found some CRCs only expected the most basic assessment of cases, giving staff a limited understanding of the offender and the context of their crime. Written reviews, which are used to monitor offenders’ progress, were completed in less than a third (32 per cent) of cases.

Inspectors found probation staff did not always draw on available information from other agencies, such as the police and social services. In some cases, they did not have the knowledge and skills to assess the impact of domestic abuse on victims and children. Others failed to understand the importance of reviewing and responding to changes, such as an offender moving in with a new partner.

Dame Glenys said: “Domestic abuse is not a minor issue – last year, more than 1 million incidents and crimes linked to domestic abuse were recorded by police across England and Wales. CRCs play a crucial role in supervising perpetrators of domestic abuse and we found they were nowhere near effective enough, yet good work could make such a difference to families, individuals and communities as a whole.

“There isn’t a national strategy to improve the quality of CRCs’ work on domestic abuse. The government’s current contracts have led to CRCs prioritising process deadlines above good-quality and safe practice. There are no specific obligations on CRCs to tackle domestic abuse and there are no direct incentives for this work either. The Ministry of Justice has the opportunity to consider this issue when it recasts contracts.”

Building better relationships

Inspectors found issues with the delivery of ‘Building Better Relationships’, the only nationally accredited domestic abuse programme for use in the community. The course supports perpetrators to examine and change their behaviour but, in practice, it is bogged down by contractual and logistical issues.

In the cases that inspectors looked at, just over a quarter (27 per cent) of perpetrators had been referred to the programme. This is far fewer than CRCs expected and has a direct impact on their income because they are paid for each participant and can be penalised financially if there is a high dropout rate.

CRCs are stuck in a downward spiral – with fewer people starting and finishing the programme, there is less money coming through the door to fund future activity. In the cases that inspectors looked at, less than half of referrals had started their course and others were unable to start because their course had been cancelled.

Some staff had created their own alternatives to ‘Building Better Relationships’ – but these courses were not accredited, based on evidence or consistently delivered by experienced staff.

Dame Glenys said: “CRCs have developed new domestic abuse policies and guidance but this is not translating into effective practice. We found probation staff with unmanageable workloads. Inexperienced staff were managing complex issues with little training or management oversight. Some were too busy to do a thorough job, others didn’t have the knowledge to do a good job.”

Inspectors found small pockets of good practice but, overall, it was a concerning set of findings. The Inspectorate makes eight recommendations in its report, with the aim of raising the standard of probation work with perpetrators of domestic abuse and giving greater consideration to victims’ needs. The most important of these is a recommendation that the MoJ should:

as part of the probation systems review, consider how to compel CRCs to focus on the quality of work with perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse.

The Inspectorate also calls on CRCs to put the right training and support in place so staff can supervise perpetrators of domestic abuse effectively, manage the risk of harm to actual and potential victims, and deliver interventions that are based on evidence.

Not fit for purpose

The official HMI Probation press release accompanying the publication of the report quotes Chief Executive of Women’s Aid Katie Ghose: 

In cases of domestic abuse offences, it is vital to have the right response from probation services. Survivors of domestic abuse need to be protected, and the threat from perpetrators must be managed.
This report shows that Community Rehabilitation Companies are failing victims, with a significant lack of understanding about domestic abuse, especially coercive control. Probation officers are routinely underestimating the ongoing danger posed to the victim, and not reassessing the level of risk involved when circumstances change. The findings of this report show that Community Rehabilitation Companies are currently not fit for purpose when it comes to domestic abuse cases, and we call on the government to urgently change this to protect survivors.

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