Quality and impact inspection of Durham probation
After a series of five inspection reports on the implementation of the new “Transforming Rehabilitation” probation system (for details click here), the probation inspectorate last week published its first “quality and impact” inspection of an individual probation area – Durham.
The report identifies some good practice but is particularly critical of the work of the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC).
About the inspection
HMI Probation’s Quality & Impact programme commenced in April 2016, and was designed to examine probation work in discrete geographical areas, equivalent to a police/Police & Crime Commissioner area, regardless of who delivers the work. The inspectorate focuses on the work of both the National Probation Service (NPS) and the CRC, together with that of any partners working with these organisations.
The inspection, which involved a team of inspectors undertaking two full weeks of fieldwork, focused on assessing how the quality of practice contributed to achieving positive outcomes for service users, and evaluating what encouraging impact had been achieved. The overall objective of the inspection was to report on whether reoffending was reduced, the public were protected from harm and individuals had abided by their sentence.
Durham is an atypical probation area in that its CRC (which covers Durham and Tees Valley) is the only one not to be privately owned but is led by ARCC (Achieving Real Change in Communities), a not-for-profit consortium comprising of nine partners from different sectors including local authorities, charities, social enterprises and a staff mutual from the previous Probation Trust.
Findings – NPS
The inspectors found that:
the quality of work within the NPS was overall of a good standard, helped by a consistent and experienced workforce and able management.
The one area of criticism was court work, specifically the standard of ‘on the day’ pre-sentence reports (PSRs) was “not good enough, and led in many instances to poorly focused proposals and sentences that were not always appropriate for the needs of the case.”
Findings – CRC
Like many other CRCs, Durham found itself with a considerably smaller caseload than had been predicted and the consequent loss of income resulted in unforeseen structural changes and the adoption of a different working model. This issue was aggravated locally by “Checkpoint”, a joint NPS/Police scheme which diverts offenders from charge and prosecution following arrest.
The inspectors found that the need to concentrate on these changes had resulted in a deterioration in the quality of mainstream probation practice. Despite highlighting some promising initiatives in relation to Through the Gate (prison resettlement) and some social action projects, the report found:
the quality of some core probation work had deteriorated since our previous inspection. Assessments and plans, while not helped by a lack of required information from court, were often not good enough. Rehabilitation work that should have been started six months into the sentence was often not being done. Consequently, reducing reoffending and public protection outcomes were less likely to be achieved.
Findings – co-ordination
Overall, the inspectors found unusually positive working relationships between the public/NPS and contracted out/CRC with only minor communication problems stemming from CRC staff moving out of formerly shared offices:
relationships between the CRC and NPS were healthy and productive, and morale of staff within both organisations was remarkably positive.
The inspection report makes 11 recommendations; three for the CRC & NPS jointly, one for NOMS, two for the NPS and five for the CRC. It is clear from the recommendations to the CRC, that there are strong concerns about the quality of work currently being delivered:
The Community Rehabilitation Company should:
4. review facilities and services available at each community justice hub, with the objective of spreading best practice more widely across the area to help all participants achieve positive outcomes;
5. improve the quality of assessment, planning, delivery of interventions and reviewing to improve the likelihood of participants achieving reducing reoffending and public protection outcomes;
6. provide a record to each participant that sets out their sentence plan goals, what work will be done to help them achieve those goals, how progress will be measured and the frequency of appointments;
7. make sure responsible officers understand the Case Allocation System form and what they need to do if the risk of harm assessment is not completed prior to allocation; and
8. improve the quality of management oversight and supervision to responsible officers.