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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Probation public protection work sub-standard in Staffordshire

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Probation inspectors found evidence of innovative plans in Staffordshire but private probation work was sub-standard, particularly in protecting the public.

Inspectors report on Staffordshire

The National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Company providing probation services in Staffordshire and Stoke need to improve the quality and consistency of their work

That is the overall verdict of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation in an inspection report published earlier today (12 January 2017).

The inspection looked at the quality of probation work carried out by the CRC and NPS and assessed the effectiveness of work undertaken locally with people who have offended. It was the second inspection this financial year of adult probation work undertaken in the Midlands division of the NPS and a CRC owned by the Reducing Reoffending Partnership (RRP). The first was in Derbyshire.

The inspectors summarised that RRP has ambitious and innovative plans, and progress had been made since the earlier Derbyshire inspection. RRP was developing new software systems, which were not yet fully implemented, and a range of interventions to address people’s offending behaviour.  Some promising services were available for those struggling with addiction, and Inspectors were also pleased to see probation services designed specifically for women offenders. However, the CRC was still not delivering the full range of planned probation services.

The inspectors made a number of criticisms of the CRC which are detailed below.

The inspectors also noted that, in common with other regions, the Midlands division of the NPS has experienced less change and was more stable and effective. The NPS work was generally of sufficient quality, though there were notable weaknesses: rehabilitative services were not good enough and management oversight needed to improve. Again, further details are provided below.

Findings — CRC

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

  • Assessments of risk of harm were done consistently and to an acceptable standard, thereby providing a good grounding for future work, but those assessments were not followed through sufficiently well.
  • In almost half of the cases insufficient steps had been taken to keep to a minimum the service user’s risk of harm to others. Moreover, in a high proportion of cases, sentence planning was poor.
  • There was no evidence of the CRC seeking to quality assure public protection work. Management oversight was limited.
  • The CRC was not sufficiently effective in delivering interventions to reduce reoffending.
  • In most cases, the CRC produced an assessment and plan sufficient for the purposes of reducing reoffending. There was evidence of some effective work but this was offset by adverse consequences of organisational change, particularly disruption to the continuity of supervision due to frequent changes of responsible officer.
  • Members of staff were confused about their roles, and the availability of appropriate interventions.
  • The use of ‘step down’, where contact is reduced or managed by telephone calls, was not compatible with the risks associated with cases, nor did it support rehabilitative work.
  • Most CRC service users had abided by the conditions of their sentence. If they did not, appropriate enforcement action was taken.
  • Individual diversity was taken into account in the assessment, planning and delivery arrangements in almost all cases.
  • The high turnover of responsible officers was less of a problem in this area of work, but in almost one in four cases the lack of continuity led to unacceptable levels of contact and poor enforcement work.

The graphic below combines performance for both NPS and CRC:

Findings — NPS

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

  • The quality of work was acceptable overall, but with some notable exceptions, and room for improvement.
  • In over two-thirds of cases the NPS had adequately assessed, planned and reviewed the risk of harm service users posed. In two-thirds of cases responsible officers had taken all reasonable action to keep the risk of harm to others to a minimum. In a small number of cases, however, the work delivered was poor.
  • The absence of management oversight and other local quality assurance compounded matters.
  • The risk of harm to the public, known adults and children had been well-managed by the responsible officer in most cases.
  • While there were good examples of effective reducing reoffending work being undertaken, practice was often limited to delivery by the responsible officer, with insufficient involvement of partner agencies.
  • Insufficient progress been made in the delivery of interventions in just over one-third of the cases inspected.
  • Overall, the quality of work was good. Most NPS service users abided by the conditions of their sentence. If they did not, appropriate enforcement action was taken.
  • There was a good balance between the necessary use of enforcement and efforts to motivate service users by overcoming barriers to their engagement.

Findings — Co-ordination between NPS and CRC

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

  • Working relationships between the two organisations functioned well, with appropriate arrangements in place to share information at allocation, to provide timely initial appointments and to manage enforcement processes efficiently.
  • Processes for identifying and notifying cases in which an individual committed a Serious Further Offence while under supervision were weak.
  • The two organisations had worked well to sustain partnership working with others, as evidenced by the availability of services to support Drug Rehabilitation and Alcohol Treatment Requirements. Elsewhere, such provision has often waned as the organisations have focused on more immediate Transforming Rehabilitation matters.
  • Working arrangements were generally positive, with most issues resolved professionally and appropriately.

Conclusion

Overall then, inspectors have found again that the CRC were performing much less satisfactorily than its NPS counterpart. This is perhaps inevitable given new ownership and additional responsibilities of supervising short term prisoners on release in particular. It will be interesting to see whether the “promising signs” highlighted by inspectors have evolved into a better quality of practice the next time that the Inspectorate visits an RRP-run CRC.

As usual, I leave the last work to Chief Probation Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey:

The CRC is making progress, and its ambitious plans for an effective probation service, to help turn people’s lives around and reduce re-offending, are delivering some good results in places. But too much of its bread and butter work to protect the public was wanting. Probation officers were encumbered with high caseloads, and with insufficient management oversight, this puts the public more at risk. The National Probation Service was working more successfully to protect the public, but still had room for improvement.

 

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

 

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