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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Private probation in South Yorks “much better”

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Probation inspectors found that practice in South Yorks was of a good quality, though far from perfect. CRC performance was much better than in other areas.

Highest performing area inspected since TR

Today’s (29 June 2017) probation inspectors’ report on South Yorkshire is the most positive so far of all the inspections undertaken  since the split of the probation service into public and private sector organisations under the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme.

The inspectorate are clear that the new system remains a work in progress with a number of improvements needed; nevertheless it is heartening to read about an area where both offenders and the communities they live in are receiving a good quality and improving service.

Overall findings

The inspection looked at the quality of probation work carried out by the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) and the National Probation Service (NPS) and assessed the effectiveness of work undertaken locally with people who have committed crimes. This was the third inspection of adult probation work undertaken by a CRC owned by Sodexo Justice Services, in partnership with Nacro, and the third of the NPS North East Division.

Overall, the work of the CRC in South Yorkshire was acceptable and of a much better quality than inspectors have seen in other CRCs so far. After a difficult start, and losing many experienced staff, the CRC was managing change competently. Most staff were fully engaged in what the organisation is trying to achieve, and were encouraged to work flexibly and make home visits. The CRC offered an impressive range of programmes to help change attitudes and behaviour, including high-quality services for women. Managers had put in place an interim operating model in South Yorkshire, which was working reasonably well, with contracted providers effectively integrated into the delivery of services. However, some individuals were allowed to drift and their non-attendance at appointments could go unchallenged.

The quality of work from the NPS with higher-risk offenders in South Yorkshire was generally good. The NPS had a solid grip on complex cases and undertook work to engage people who were resistant to change. Responsible officers could have made greater use of probation service officers and of the services available from the CRC to deliver structured work with offenders. They also needed to improve delivery of ‘on the day’ court reports for lower-risk cases. However, work to make sure individuals complied with their sentence was generally effective and appropriate enforcement action was taken where necessary.

More detailed findings are set out below:

Findings — CRC

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

  • The quality of public protection work was generally acceptable, but with some room for improvement. Up to date policies and clear procedures were in place. There were examples of effective information exchange with the police about domestic abuse as cases started, and when they were reviewed. Good use was made of home visits.
  • Further attention was required to monitor and respond to signs of risk of harm deteriorating between reviews.
  • The quality of work of the CRC to reduce reoffending was acceptable. Refreshingly, staff had a good understanding of rehabilitation activity requirements and cases were generally well planned. There was a comprehensive range of interventions to address offending behaviour, including an accredited programme, locally developed short duration programmes and access to a range of partnership providers.
  • Women’s services were strong, with bespoke services available in all four metropolitan boroughs.
  • Interventions were not always accessible, however, or delivered frequently. Where service users did not access the planned interventions quickly, we found the momentum was lost and the level of meaningful contact became poor, with the requirements of the order not being delivered. Not all local management centres were accessible for disabled service users and staff, and not all interventions were available for those unable to attend during the day.
  • The quality of work to ensure that offenders abided by their sentence was inconsistent. Staff had a sound understanding of how to implement requirements of court orders and licences. Responsible officers and contracted providers understood the importance of clear recording. Practice was underpinned by clear processes and guidance. Checks were in place to see whether requirements were completed before a case could transfer to the central hub and remote contact.
  • The CRC’s aim to complete the main interventions in the first few months of the order was not met in many cases. Instead there were too many examples of cases with a high number of acceptable absences and service users not completing their required interventions, which resulted in drift and little meaningful work. The high number of acceptable absences was particularly poor for unpaid work orders.

The graphic below shows reducing reoffending findings for work undertaken by both the NPS and CRC:

Findings — NPS

Inspectors also expressed positive judgments on the work of the NPS:

  • The quality of work to protect the public was generally good. The NPS had a good grip on complex cases with work undertaken to engage those in denial and resistant to change. There was an effective victims’ team who worked closely with the police and partner agencies to respond to the needs of victims of child sexual exploitation.
  • Reviews were completed in over two-thirds of cases but officers did not always adjust their planning to take account of changing circumstances. Some probation officers found working primarily with high risk of harm and complex cases challenging. Some were reluctant to move less demanding cases to probation service officers, as they doubted their skills and experience. Others resisted, knowing that it would further increase the concentration of high risk of harm cases in their caseload.
  • Overall, the quality of work delivered by the NPS to reduce reoffending was good, but there was room for improvement with reviewing work.
  • Assessments and plans were sound, and appropriate cases were referred to the sex offender treatment programmes. Assessments for personality disorder traits were undertaken, with good use of available consultancy provision. Responsible officers’ default position was to deliver one-to-one work, however, rather than making greater use of probation service officers and available CRC services to deliver structured work.
  • The quality of work to support service users abide by their sentence was good. Effective arrangements were in place to share information with partner organisations.
  • NPS responsible officers were working hard to engage and address difficult and challenging behaviour and the individual diversity needs of service users were taken into account. This promoted compliance. Most service users abided by the requirements of their sentences. When they did not, appropriate enforcement action was taken in the majority of cases

Findings — Co-ordination between NPS and CRC

Overall levels of co-operation and co-ordination between both probation agencies appeared to be good:

  • At a strategic level there were good working relationships and a shared goal among senior leaders of making the Transforming Rehabilitation strategy work. There were examples of the NPS loaning probation service officers when the CRC were short staffed in 2015 and the CRC accessing trainee development placements with the NPS. The CRC was committed to developing their portfolio of interventions to meet NPS needs.
  • At the operational level inspectors saw greater distance and some tensions. With many new staff in the CRC there was less common history at the front line and there was a tendency to make unhelpful assumptions about each other’s ideology and to polarise differences.
  • Although the CRC had produced a clear ‘rate card’, supported by a guide to interventions, these services remained under-utilised by the NPS, however. The delivery of ‘on-the-day’ court reports required improvement for lower risk of harm cases. Access to services to address alcohol, drugs and mental health needs was difficult for both the CRC and the NPS; this required further attention.

Conclusions

Two key factors appear notable to be me in this inspection report: firstly, that the CRC had successfully overcome major staffing problems and was making positive progress much faster than other areas; secondly, the quality of co-operation between the NPS and CRC at a strategic level appeared to have improved performance for both parties.

Chief Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey summarised the report:

The work of the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) in South Yorkshire was generally being delivered well by forward-looking staff who had bought in to what the organisation was trying to achieve. That said, there is more to do − particularly with bringing people who had not turned up to appointments or unpaid work back before the courts.

The National Probation Service (NPS) in South Yorkshire was of a similar standard to the CRC and was working well with some complex and challenging people. There is more work for leaders to do to drive improvements, and they would do well to use some of the services on offer from the CRC. This would lighten the load on some of their hard-pressed staff – but overall, they were serving the community well with a relentless focus on public safety.

Click here to see my infographic summarising findings from first twelve inspections of new public/private probation system.

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All Probation Posts are sponsored by Unilink

With over 20 years’ experience in the criminal justice sector, Unilink is a world leader in probation and community corrections software applications, as well as prisoner self-service, prisoner/case management and prisoner communications. Unilink’s integrated suite of products provide a complete digital solution enabling efficient running of prisons and probation. Underpinned by biometrics it integrates seamlessly to deliver security, efficiency and value – while being proven to help rehabilitate prisoners.

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