Probation in Suffolk “nowhere near good enough”

Both public and private probation failing in Suffolk

The two organisations responsible for providing probation services in Suffolk needed to do far more to protect the public, reduce reoffending and make sure people served sentences handed down by the courts.

That is the headline quote from Dame Glenys Stacey, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation, in a press release accompanying the probation inspection report  into probation services in Suffolk which was published earlier today (16 June 2017).

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 second inspection of adult probation work undertaken by a CRC owned by Sodexo Justice Services, in partnership with Nacro.

Overall findings

The inspectors were very critical of the work of the CRC:

Overall, the work of the CRC in Suffolk was not good enough. Staff needed to do more to protect the public, particularly in domestic abuse cases, and they needed a greater focus on keeping children safe. Their work to prevent people committing further crimes needed to improve, as did work to ensure that people abided by the terms of their sentence. Staff were working hard but individual caseloads were very high and staff morale was low. Inspectors saw some good work, but the quality of work was generally poor.

Sodexo has a conceptually sound operating model for all of its CRCs. Based on robust research, it is designed to fully engage people who have committed crimes and address their readiness to change. Inspectors were concerned, however, at the over-reliance on telephone contact in supervising individuals. Without meaningful contact, people are less likely to develop the will to change their attitudes and behaviour. Inspectors were also concerned at the lack of privacy in open booths used for confidential interviews.

Implementation of the model in Suffolk has stalled and some systems are not yet up and running, partly because the Ministry of Justice’s necessary IT gateway that will allow for critical information to be shared is still not in place.

We have become accustomed to inspectorate reports where the work of the NPS has been rated much more favourably than that of the CRC. Unfortunately, the NPS in Suffolk was also found to be performing poorly:

The quality of work from the NPS with higher-risk offenders in Suffolk was also poor overall. As inspectors found with the CRC, more needed to be done to protect the public in domestic abuse cases and more done to safeguard children. Work to reduce the risk of people committing further crimes was poor across the spectrum. In the face of work pressures, local leaders had reduced the requirement to review cases, which inspectors thought left some potential victims more vulnerable than necessary.

More detailed findings are set out below:

Findings — CRC

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

  • The CRC did not review the NPS’s initial assessments of the risk of harm posed well enough. Then CRC plans did not redress any shortcomings sufficiently, leaving some victims more vulnerable than necessary.
  • The CRC was dilatory in completing assessments. We found assessments were generally superficial and sentence planning was poor. The delivery of interventions was correspondingly patchy, and poor overall. Responsible officers had very high caseloads, but were often delivering one-to-one work rather than using supply chain providers or in-house groupwork (as anticipated in the operating model) thereby increasing the demands on their time. Leaders were taking action to redress the balance.
  • Service users had not received an acceptable level of service in too many cases.
  • Individual service users’ needs were not taken into account in enough cases. In too many cases, not enough appointments had been offered and non-compliance had not received an appropriate response.
  • Over one-third of service users had not complied with the sentence.

The graphic below combines performance for both NPS and CRC:

Findings — NPS

The inspectors found that the NPS in Suffolk were suffering from chronic staff shortages and felt that the NPS nationally had to do better to address this. Their main findings with respect to NPS performance were:

  • Public protection work was not of sufficient quality overall. As with the CRC, this was particularly notable in cases of domestic abuse and those involving the safeguarding of children.
  • Initial assessments were generally sufficient, but risks posed to known adults and/or children were not assessed well enough, with pertinent information missing.
  • Local managers expressly allowed routine formal reviews to be conducted annually unless there was a change in circumstances. We found that changes in circumstances did not always lead to a review. These arrangements left some victims more vulnerable than necessary.
  • The quality of work was poor across the spectrum of work to reduce reoffending.
  • The majority of court reports did not provide sufficient information to help the CRC undertake good, comprehensive planning. The risk assessments to support allocation appeared inflated to us: we found an unusual proportion of cases that we considered should have been allocated to the CRC. Then, assessment and subsequent planning were not good enough in too many cases.
  • Plans were not delivered well enough. There had been insufficient progress in most cases.
  • Overall, the quality of work was acceptable, but in too many cases, not enough appointments had been offered.
  • The response to non-compliance was appropriate in most cases.

Findings — Co-ordination between NPS and CRC

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

  • In terms of public protection, the two agencies were generally working together well. New Integrated Offender Management arrangements were bedding in, and NPS officers worked with the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub and, through them, provided  information to the CRC. Information-flows from court had improved.
  • Relationships worked reasonably well, with regular interface meetings focused on problem-solving.
  • The NPS chose not to use interventions on offer from the CRC, seemingly to save money, although the national delivery model for probation services assumes that they will.
  • The establishment of the CRC hub and the NPS central enforcement unit had created problems for each organisation which had affected enforcement. These were being resolved by middle managers and, where necessary, senior managers via interface meetings.

Conclusion

Overall then, this is a very damning report with some key recommendations including:

  • The CRC should take enforcement action where appropriate against those who don’t comply with their sentences and ensure people can be interviewed in private when necessary. They also needed to communicate and engage with their staff more effectively.
  • The NPS should provide specific support to responsible officers carrying caseloads of high-risk offenders.
  • The CRC and NPS together should improve the quality of case management, with a particular focus on the risk posed to known adults and children, and provide effective management oversight of all relevant cases.

Chief Inspector, Dame Glenys Stacey highlights two key features of the Sodexo model and appears to attribute blame for them to the MoJ  procurement model:

Two features that are allowable within CRC contracts concern me, however. Some service users’ main contact with the CRC will be by telephone when in my view, individuals posing a risk to their families or the public should be supervised more actively. Those who are supervised face-to-face are often seen in open booths. This is not likely to encourage the candid exchanges sometimes necessary, and it does not provide sufficient privacy. I question these two aspects of the model and the funding constraints that encourage them.

She concludes in her, typically, direct style that it is not possible to operate a good quality public service without sufficient funding:

There is a simple truth here: to deliver well, all probation providers must be able to employ enough skilled staff, and then make sure they can give of their best. To do that, they need sufficient funding and the right priorities, systems and ways of working. Above all, staff need to be engaged and valued, in order to deliver well.

 

You can see my summary of the findings of the first ten probation inspection reports post-TR in infographic format here.

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