Inspection limited by COVID-19
A cost-cutting restructure has had a ‘profound’ negative effect on the quality of probation supervision carried out by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Rehabilitation Company according to an inspection report published yesterday.
HM Inspectorate of Probation conducted a part-inspection of the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) in March. The CRC supervises nearly 3,000 low and medium-risk offenders; some are serving community sentences while others have left or are preparing to leave prison.
Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said:
“In 2018-2019, Hampshire & Isle of Wight was the only one out of 21 CRCs to be rated ‘Good’.
On our return, it was disappointing to find a sharp decline in the quality of work with individuals under probation supervision. We have concluded this is directly related to a shortfall in sufficiently trained and experienced probation staff.”
The CRC is owned by Purple Futures, a consortium of private and third-sector businesses. Senior leaders explained that they went ahead with a restructure because the consortium had reduced income and needed to cut costs.
The new operating model was based on an experienced and skilled workforce being in place. Senior leaders had failed to take sufficient account of the need for skilled staff and the time required to recruit and train new case managers.
Inspectors found there had been a 38 per cent reduction in the number of senior case managers since the previous inspection. While the number of lower-grade case managers had risen significantly, 45 per cent were new to the service.
Mr Russell said:
“After the last inspection, we warned that substantial changes to the workforce would put the quality of work at risk.
It takes time for new probation staff to develop the knowledge, skills and experience to handle complex cases. The negative impact of the restructure on the service has been profound.”
Inspectors found new staff had been assigned complex cases that were beyond their level of experience. More established staff had high workloads, which compromised the quality of their work. Management oversight was stretched and did not pay enough attention to potential risks of harm.
In contrast, inspectors found a much-improved Through the Gate service for individuals preparing to leave prison and resettle in the community. The CRC received additional funding from central government and this area of work was rated ‘Outstanding’. The delivery of unpaid work schemes continued to be rated ‘Good’.
Mr Russell said:
“This inspection was cut short because of the lockdown. As such, we have not rated parts of this CRC’s work or given an overall rating.”
I haven’t followed my usual practice of providing more detailed feedback of the inspectorate’s findings since the fieldwork was unable to be completed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, the overall finding is perhaps the most obvious one – it is not possible to provide good quality probation work on the cheap. The CRC’s Through the Gate work was rated as “outstanding” as a result of additional investment from the MoJ. At the same time, Purple Future’s decision to undertaking a cost-cutting re-structured to all four areas of case supervision to be rated “inadequate”.
The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: excellent, good, requires improvement and poor. You will see that Hampshire and Isle of Wight CRC has now been relegated to the foot of my unofficial probation league table with an * of the kind usually attached to football teams who have been docked points for financial irregularities.