The crisis in our probation system worsened this afternoon when Working Links, which operates three Community Rehabilitation Companies (Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset & Wiltshire; Dorset, Devon & Cornwall; and Wales) went into administration with Seetec, owners of Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC, taking over.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation brought forward the publication date of its inspection into the Dorset, Devon & Cornwall CRC which it rates as inadequate, the first CRC to be placed in the bottom category of the four rating bands.
As soon as the results of the DDC inspection in November 2018 were apparent, Chief Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey advised the government that intervention was necessary, the first time she has recommended this course of action.
Inspectors found staff were under-recording the number of riskier cases because of commercial pressures. They were also completing individuals’ sentence plans to meet performance targets, without actually meeting the offender.
In the report, Dame Glenys said these were “immutable lines” which had been crossed. She said: “The professional ethos of probation has buckled under the strain of the commercial pressures put upon it here, and it must be restored urgently.”
That report records CRC staff telling inspectors they believed the way Working Links was operating was “contrary to the core values and purpose of probation”, with no direction or any strategy for improvement.
Staff, inspectors concluded, “are trapped in a spiral of decline. The imperative to meet task-related contractual performance targets and so avoid service credits (financial penalties) dominates working life”.
Dame Glenys was particularly troubled by two aspects:
- All cases in Working Links CRCs are assigned a blue, red, amber or green rating, based on their level of risk of harm and/or of reoffending. This rating determines the resources which will be allocated to them. Cases rated as ‘red’ require the most frequent contact and more interventions. The report noted: “Practitioners told us they refrained from case-appropriate assessments in some instances to limit the numbers of ‘red cases’ that have to be seen every week. This is an immutable line crossed. It seriously compromises the CRC’s understanding of the caseload and the resources required to manage the work safely and effectively. What is more, it compromises probation itself in those cases.”
- A key element of CRC work is to involve the individuals in planning the progress of their sentences from the courts. While there was sufficient engagement with individuals in most Cornwall cases, it was insufficient in the majority of those in Devon and Dorset. Too frequently, inspectors found, there was no plan at all. The report noted: “This is exemplified in one case by the inspector’s observation that “the plan was completed to meet a target, so was done before the responsible officer met the service user, with the service user having been turned away from his induction appointment because the CRC had not yet allocated the case.” The report noted that this, too, was an immutable line crossed.
Dame Glenys said: “The Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall CRC is not delivering probation services to anywhere near the standards we and the public expect.”
Inspectors found good Through the Gate services for people leaving prison. These services are outsourced in a well-contracted and properly-resourced scheme. But, Dame Glenys said: “Most other work is of poor quality, and simply not enough meaningful work is being done. Instead, effort is focused disproportionately on reducing the risk of any further contractual (financial) penalty. For some professional staff, workloads are unconscionable.”
Some officers had on average of between 80-100 cases, with some caseloads reaching 168 – an unmanageable workload. CRC staff had been cut by one-third since 2015 and one manager described the pressure as “mind-blowing”. Courts had very little confidence in the CRC.
Staff felt they had little support and had not been consulted in a staff survey since 2015. The report noted: “There were many concerns about the personal safety of staff in operational offices.”
Quite how poor probation provision was in Dorset, Devon & Cornwall is shown starkly by my league table below. My unofficial scoring system, based on HMI Probation’s individual ratings, gives DDC CRC a total of 5 points, compared to 11 points for the next worst performing CRC.
Although staff, service users and the public must be glad that Seetec have stepped into the breach at such short notice, we shall have to see whether they are able to turn around performance over the coming months.