Durham Tees Valley CRC improves performance

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Probation inspectors find Durham Tees Valley CRC has improved performance and upgrade rating to "good".

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Service upgraded to "good" from "requires improvement"

A probation service in the North East has improved its overall performance and is excellent in parts, according to inspectors in a report published today.

HM Inspectorate of Probation conducted a routine inspection of Durham Tees Valley Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) in November and December.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said:

“We last inspected Durham Tees Valley CRC in 2018 and we gave the service an overall rating of ‘Requires improvement’.
I am pleased to see the CRC has responded to our recommendations. We found the quality of work with people under probation supervision has improved and there is much better support for individuals leaving prison.
We found improvements in five out of the 10 aspects of work that we inspected. As a result, we have raised the CRC’s overall rating from ‘Requires improvement’ to ‘Good’.”

The CRC is owned by a not-for-profit consortium made up of nine partners. The CRC supervises more than 3,600 low and medium-risk offenders across Durham and Teesside. These individuals are serving community sentences or preparing to leave or have left prison.

Inspectors rated three aspects of work ‘Outstanding’ – the highest possible mark.

Mr Russell said:

“The CRC has maintained its ‘Outstanding’ rating for leadership. Experienced and committed leaders are driving change and developing the workforce’s skills to improve the quality of work.
The CRC is also making better use of information and facilities compared to our previous visit.
The biggest area of improvement has been to the Through the Gate service, which supports people as they prepare to leave prison and resettle in the community.
The Ministry of Justice has provided additional funding so the CRC has increased staffing and put a more effective service in place. We were particularly impressed by the way mentors and volunteers build positive working relationships with service users.”

Inspectors also noted the success of two projects.

A unique scheme in Middlesbrough provides medical treatment and intensive support to a small number of offenders who are entrenched heroin users. The scheme aims to support individuals to stop reoffending and to turn their lives around, while also reducing the cost and strain on public services.

The CRC’s work with the charity Three13 was also praised. The partnership supports people who have been sentenced to complete unpaid work to access training and employment opportunities while doing so.

Between October 2019 and January 2020, the partnership helped more than 40 individuals to gain a vocational qualification and a further four people have found employment.

One participant spoke highly of the scheme:

“My probation officer suggested working in the kitchens at a community centre. It wasn’t my calling, but I gave it a try. By being there, I was helping other staff and learning new skills. Thanks to this place, I am at my best and I have got my family back. My probation officer and this place have saved my life.”

The Inspectorate’s report found some areas for improvement.

Mr Russell said:

“Since our last inspection, probation staff have improved the way they identify and manage potential risks of harm. However, further work needs to be done to protect potential and actual victims in domestic abuse and child safeguarding cases.
The CRC uses information about individuals’ past behaviours and convictions, but this is often accepted at face value. Probation staff need to exercise professional curiosity – they need to analyse the information they receive, cross-reference with other agencies, and assess the potential impact of reoffending.”

Key findings

Inspectors organised their key findings under three main headings: organisational delivery; case supervision and unpaid work & through-the-gate.

Organisational delivery

Inspectors’ main findings on this domain were positive. Key strengths of the organisation are as follows:

Key strengths of the organisation are as follows:

  • The CRC continues to have a clear vision and strategy, which is understood and supported by staff and local partners.
  • The experienced and strong senior leadership team establishes effective working relationships with partners, supporting collaboration and influencing strategic decisions.
  • Robust quality assurance measures are encouraging staff to improve the quality of work.
  • Peer mentors and volunteers with lived experience are embedded in the organisation and are a good source of support for service users.
  • Responsible officers are easily accessible in local community hubs, reducing potential obstacles to compliance and engagement.

The main areas for improvement are as follows:

  • Learning from training on risk of harm since the last inspection has not been fully applied to all aspects of case management.
  • The wide range of interventions and services available are not fully utilised.

Case supervision

Inspectors gave a critical verdict about the core probation task of supervising offenders, rating all four assessed domains as “requiring improvement”:

Key strengths of case supervision are as follows:

  •  Responsible officers positively involve and engage with individuals under supervision, considering their views, diversity and personal circumstances.
  • Offending-related factors and those likely to support desistance are identified and incorporated into plans.
  • Plans to manage risk of harm make appropriate links to the work of other agencies and multi-agency working where relevant.
  • Where other agencies are involved in managing risk, responsible officers communicate with them more often than we found at the last inspection, to inform reviews.

Areas of case supervision requiring improvement include:

  • The quality of public protection work, while improving, is insufficient.
  • Offending behaviour and risk of harm factors are not sufficiently analysed.
  • Interventions are not appropriately delivered to address offending and risk of harm.

Unpaid work and through-the-gate

Key strengths of unpaid work are:

  • The range of projects available consider service users’ diversity, personal circumstances and any vulnerability needs.
  • Unpaid work is visible to local communities; the work undertaken is meaningful and purposeful.
  • Arrangements for education, training and employment provide good opportunities to improve skills and employability.
  • Service users who complete unpaid work have the opportunity to volunteer or, where suitable, are offered peer mentor training, to support others.

Areas for improvement for unpaid work are:

  • Record-keeping of assessments and allocation decisions are inconsistent and not clear.
  • Arrangements for assessing and communicating risk of harm issues are not routinely applied.

Key strengths of through-the-gate are:

  • Service users are meaningfully involved in resettlement planning, taking account of strengths and protective factors.
  • Resettlement plans and activities appropriately consider risk of harm factors.
  • The delivery of necessary activities prioritises those that are most critical, and takes account of diversity and personal circumstances.
  • Peer mentors and volunteers add to the quality of Through the Gate services in Durham Tees Valley.

Areas for improvement for Through the Gate work are:

  • Resettlement actions are not routinely followed up by responsible officers when service users are released.

Conclusion

The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: excellent, good, requires improvement and poor. Durham and Tees Valley must be commended for making such significant improvements to performance and becoming just the third Community Rehabilitation Company to be rated as good.

As  you can see below, this new assessment sees TV CRC shooting up my unofficial probation league table.

While it might seem somewhat churlish to be critical of such good news at a time when we are all in such desperate need of it, it does strike me as odd that a probation service can be rated as good when all four key elements of its core work of supervising offenders are rated as “requiring improvement”.

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