Two key quotes from today’s HMI Probation report on enforcement and recall serve as a further indictment on the quality of probation work undertaken by the 21 private Community Rehabilitation Companies with low and medium risk offenders.
There are two principal findings from the report.
Firstly, that enforcement of court sentences by CRCs is poor; inspectors found that staff did not see offenders often enough and that this lack of meaningful engagement led to poor decisions in managing breaches of the orders.
Secondly, that almost all decisions to recall offenders to prison by both the National Probation Service responsible and CRCs were appropriate and that probation officers were not “trigger happy” as has recently been suggested in discussions around the significant recent increase in the number of recalls.
The main findings of the report are summarised in the infographic reproduced below. I discuss the inspectorate’s findings in more detail below the infographic.
Overall, the quality of offender management and consequent enforcement
decision-making for people on community orders was poor. Assessment was too often deficient. Plans, though timely, were not of good quality.
Engagement with the individual in constructive work was insufficient in too many cases. Planned levels of contact were not always adequate to meet the individual’s needs. Consequently, CRCs did not always know when enforcement was appropriate.
The task of building a competent workforce was constrained by the level of resourcing, with dwindling front-line resources to manage the work.
Inspectors found better work in licence cases; probably because most offenders in the sample were assessed as posing a medium risk of harm to others, and so were more likely to be allocated to an experienced member of staff at probation officer grade. Staff were clearer about the process for recall than for community enforcement. Recall decision-making was good. Judgements about the acceptability of absences or individual behaviour were generally appropriate.
However, the quality of case management and consequent enforcement decision-making for people subject to post-sentence supervision was poor.
CRCs were struggling to provide adequate services for the range of complex needs of this group of individuals. In particular, responsible officers struggled to find ways to engage with them. Enforcement had the effect of compounding rather than lessening the sense of a revolving door between prison and the community.
National Probation Service Performance
Inspectors assessed the quality of assessment, supervision planning and consequent enforcement decision-making with offenders on community sentences as good.
At the beginning of the community sentence, responsible officers outlined to individuals the consequences of non-compliance, including a return to court. Judgements about the acceptability of absences or individual behaviour were appropriate in most cases. However, better attention should have been paid to engaging individuals in the process of supervision. While staff had a heightened sensitivity to issues of risk, the level of contact set was based on considerations of the risk of harm posed to others in just under two-thirds of cases.
Overall, inspectors found a good balance struck between purposeful work and the use of enforcement to re-engage individuals or to apply controls on behaviour when necessary.
Inspectors also judged the overall quality of work relating to licence recalls to be good. The NPS had an organisation-wide process for managing these cases. This supported engagement and promoted compliance, and enabled staff to take recall action when necessary and appropriate.
More needed to be done to ensure that relevant information from the prison is incorporated into the plan of work undertaken in the community. Nevertheless, inspectors considered that judgements about the acceptability of absences or behaviour were appropriate in all but one case. There were also sufficient checks and balances to ensure that recall was viewed as a last resort, with action only taken when the risks of continued supervision in the community were unmanageable.