Public & Private Probation under-performing in West Mercia

Improvement needed

Today’s (9 November 2017) probation inspectors’ report on West Mercia adds to the litany of under-performing probation areas with both the public National Probation Service and private Community Rehabilitation Company found to require improvement.

Interestingly, despite meeting its national performance targets, the CRC was assessed as poor in key areas of work, including protecting potential victims from the risk posed by people under supervision. This work required improvement, particularly, in cases of domestic abuse and those involving the safeguarding of children.

NPS performance in the West Mercia division was judged to be variable

the NPS had experienced staff who managed offenders well and delivered good-quality interventions overall. However, … NPS staff were not using the wide range of interventions – programmes to support offenders – that were on offer from the CRC to the extent expected.

More detailed findings are set out below:

Findings — CRC

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

  • The quality of CRC work to protect those at risk of harm was poor. It required improvement, particularly in cases of domestic abuse and those involving the safeguarding of children.
  • Initial assessment and sentence planning also required improvement.
  • Some practitioners required more training and support to improve their practice in work to protect the public.
  • The quality of case management was inconsistent. The CRC was not sufficiently effective in delivering enough interventions to reduce reoffending. A range of good-quality external services had been developed in partnership with the previous trust or the CRC, but their funding and use were being reduced for financial reasons.
  • As part of its contract, the CRC had introduced a new initial assessment and sentence planning tool and set up multi-functional hubs from which the CRC and its partner organisations would provide services for offenders. Neither of these innovations had been successful in delivering additional benefits in quality or effectiveness, and the CRC had largely reverted to previous models of delivery that better fitted the operational context.
  • Unpaid work was being delivered effectively.
  • The quality of the CRC’s work to ensure sentences were fully implemented was poor.
  • Offenders were not sufficiently involved in planning their order or licence, and contact was not sufficiently frequent or enforced. The number of absences deemed acceptable was too high. As a result, too few offenders completed the work that was required of them. The CRC needed to give more attention to increasing offender engagement.

The graphic below summarises performance on reducing reoffending by the NPS and CRC combined (no separate analysis of figures):

Findings — NPS

  • The quality of the NPS’s work to manage risk of harm varied. Assessment and planning to manage risk of harm to others were sufficient. MAPPA was working well and contributed to keeping people safe but interventions needed to be more focused on protecting those at risk of harm.
  • The NPS’s court liaison work required improvement. Pre-sentence reports were not of a consistently high enough standard, and court liaison work overall did not support the effective assessment of cases before allocation.
  • The quality of assessment and planning was sufficient once cases had been allocated, but progress was not reviewed adequately.
  • Overall, the NPS’s work to make sure offenders abided by their sentence was good. Individuals were fully involved in planning their order or licence. The NPS took factors relating to diversity into account.
  • We found that the number of appointments offered was sufficient for offenders’ needs. As a result, the NPS delivered the legal requirements of orders and licences well.

Findings — Co-ordination between NPS and CRC

Working relationships between the CRC and the NPS were good overall:

  • The variable quality of the NPS’s court work led to unnecessary pressures on the CRC. The NPS did not assess cases well enough before allocating them. The CRC was often given adequate information which contributed to the poor quality of the CRC’s initial assessments and plans.
  • Court liaison work had not reversed the under-use by sentencers of the CRC’s accredited programmes to address domestic abuse, drink driving, and thinking skills.
  • The CRC and NPS were working well together where necessary to enforce court orders and licences. The NPS was introducing a centralised process for enforcement across West Mercia.
  • When cases were returned to court because of a breach, however, court listing arrangements resulted in considerable delays in hearing enforcement applications, with waits of up to six weeks at magistrates’ courts and up to three months at the Crown Court. This was undermining sentencers’ confidence in probation services.

Conclusions

Chief Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey uses this report to raise three more general issues. The first is that CRCs do not receive sufficient funding to do a good job. The second is that the HMPPS contractual targets are a poor indicator of good quality work:

The organisation was being driven by performance targets, as one might expect, and there was a strong central drive to discern how to meet targets and then do so. Managers and practitioners both recognised that this had little to do with delivering positive outcomes for individual offenders. Success in managing performance targets was not matched by efforts to maintain and raise the quality of offender management and to achieve positive outcomes with offenders.

The final point is that offenders supervised by the NPS do not get the proper range of interventions required to address their needs and promote desistance:

NPS staff were not using the wide range of interventions – programmes to support offenders – that were on offer from the CRC to the extent expected. Offenders may be denied the best help as a result, and the interventions themselves will be less viable over time, if they are not used enough. This is not the first time we have found this situation, and I urge the NPS to review the position nationally.

Probation Standards

The next time West Mercia is inspected, the inspectorate will rate them using new standards and assess them as Outstanding, Good, Requiring Improvement or Inadequate. If  you’d like to have your say on what the new standards should look like, you have until 8 December to do so.

 

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

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