Concern over rising caseloads
Last week (19 March 2021), HMI Probation published a new research and analysis bulletin on: Caseloads, workloads and staffing levels in probation services. Myself, in partnership with Chris Fox and his team at the Policy, Evaluation and Research Unit at Manchester Metropolitan University (@MMUPolicyEval on Twitter) undertook a Rapid Evidence Assessment which contributed to the report. The purpose of the report was to inform inspections which include standards which emphasises the need for sufficient staffing levels to meet workload and caseload demand.
The timing for this work is important as the date for the reunification of the probation service (26 June 2021) is coming rapidly over the horizon. Inspections of both Community Rehabilitation Companies and divisions of the National Probation Service over the last five years have found many examples of inadequate staffing levels. Indeed, in its submission to the 2020 Comprehensive Spending Review, the inspectorate clearly set out its concerns:
“probation staff are struggling to manage high numbers of offenders – 86 per cent of staff in CRCs and 33 per cent in NPS divisions are responsible for more than 40 cases. In our opinion, it is difficult for even experienced practitioners to deal with 60, 70, 80 or more cases properly. Financial pressures have also led to some CRC providers replacing qualified probation officers with less experienced staff who are still training towards a qualification.”
- When probation practitioners hold a caseload of fifty or more, they are less likely to deliver high-quality work meeting the aims of rehabilitation and public protection.
- A precise target number for caseload cannot be set as there are too many inter-connected variables in relation to case complexity, the available administrative support, and the interventions and services that can be accessed.
- However, there was a consensus among staff and senior managers that between 50 and 60 cases is the maximum number that can be managed well.
- Less than half (46 per cent) of probation practitioners believed they had a manageable workload, while just over half (54 per cent) considered that team workloads were actively managed. Probation officers were less positive about their workload than probation services officers, and those working in Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) were less positive than their NPS counterparts.
- Senior managers in both the CRCs and the NPS agreed that workloads were unbalanced and resulted in stress and anxiety for many staff. Probation practitioners told us that high workloads were exacting a high personal toll upon them in the form of stress, sleeplessness, and fear of making serious mistakes through overwork.
The report says that in addition to existing HMPPS plans to recruit more staff, there are other promising developments for reducing workload pressures for probation officers working on the frontline:
- The creation of administrative service hubs, which, if implemented well, can relieve practitioners of many support functions and thus free up time for one-to-one work.
- Improved ICT and management information, facilitating faster access to case information, improving partnership working, and avoiding duplication of administrative efforts.
- Improved access to accredited programmes and structured interventions, preventing the need for probation frontline workers to make up for gaps in provision with time-consuming and sometimes less effective one-to-one work.
- Improved access to wider services, particularly through co-location and the creation of community hubs which put individual service users at the centre of service provision.
- Employing support workers with lived experience, helping to engage service users.
- Evaluating the potential value of remote supervision and new digital interventions.