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Positive inspection of probation counter-terrorism work
Inspectors find probation, police and prison services have provided a solid foundation to managing counter terrorism cases collectively.

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Counter-terrorism

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, alongside HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), and HM Inspectorate of Prisons have today published a report looking at the work of the Probation Service’s National Security Division (NSD) and multi-agency arrangements for the management of terrorist offenders in the wake of terrorist attacks.

The work

Three key organisations are responsible for managing terrorist and high concern terrorist risk cases: the National Security Division (NSD), part of the Probation Service; the Counter Terrorism Nominal Management (CTNM), part of CT Policing; and HM Prison Service (HMPS). The joint thematic inspection analyses the counter-terrorism work undertaken by the three specialist CT units.

The overall findings are positive, concluding that NSD, probation, police and prison services have provided a solid foundation on which to further develop the approach to managing counter terrorism cases collectively. Inspectors found that the different services had implemented much of the learning from previous reviews. Prison governors and directors were said to be clear about the terrorist risk posed in their establishments and were actively managing this. Leadership across the NSD and CTNM was strong, and there were clear lines of accountability, enhanced by national multi-agency governance arrangements.

Numbers

A total of 27 prisoners held for terrorist or terrorist-connected offences were released from custody in Great Britain in the year ending 30 September 2022 and were supervised by staff within the NSD. The NST had a total caseload of 57 cases in the year to June 2022. You can see full details of the numbers in the infographic below reproduced from the report.

Findings

Inspectors found that the NSD was sufficiently staffed by probation officers with good levels of skill and knowledge and were delivering a good quality service. Supervision within the community was assessed as being robust overall, balancing rehabilitative needs with tight risk management parameters. Handovers from Prison Offender Managers to their community counterparts was described as timely with a good level of engagement by Community Offender Managers prior to release.

Counter-terrorism work is intense, which lead inspectors to question how long practitioners and managers could continue to demonstrate the ‘gold standard’ of practice expected as case numbers continued to rise with many people remaining under supervision for several years with new cases released from prison on a regular basis.

Inspectors also concluded that while the current model, to keep all terrorist convicted cases as MAPPA Level 3 for an initial 12 months, was understandable as an initial response to the terror attacks, it is no longer an efficient use of resources, in particular of the senior NSD and CTNM managers who are required to chair Level 3 panels. They recommended that, once all risk management is in place and the individual has achieved a period of stability, cases could reasonably be managed as Level 2, given the knowledge and expertise of these multi-agency panels. Individual cases could, of course, be escalated back to Level 3 at any time if required.

Conclusions

Perhaps unusually, prison, police and probation services were found to be working together well, an opinion which was confirmed by the quality of casework found in this inspection.

Nevertheless, the inspectorates highlight further improvements which are needed. These included the recording and storing of information which is described as “disjointed at best”. The NSD is not technologically equipped to receive or hold highly sensitive material, information is not routinely being shared with prison offender managers (POMs) and police are working across several IT systems. Inspectors say that this unsatisfactory state of affairs leads to a risk of intelligence falling through the gaps.

Inspectors also point out that there is not an up-to-date single operational framework to guide practitioners in managing these cases within custody and the community; which leads to risks of disparity in practice. Finally, inspectors recommend that CT training for staff in prisons needs to be enhanced and Prison Offender Managers to become more involved in the management of terrorist risk within custody.

Chief Probation Inspector Justin Russell summarised the report:

“This inspection provides reassurance that significant progress has been made in managing offenders who may pose the most serious risk to the public and our national security. We have found that considerable efforts, and investment, have been made to ensure all those involved in supervising known terrorists are working together and are on the same page.

“We are encouraged by what we have seen. For example, in the probation service there is a new national security directorate with specially trained probation officers who are delivering high-quality supervision and have small, manageable caseloads. However, the risk of further terrorist attacks remains, and continued investment and commitment to interagency information sharing is essential”.

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