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Inspectors condemn probation supervision by telephone

HMI Probation inspection of Gwent found a high-performing public NPS and a "troubling" private CRC which was supervising low risk offenders by telephone.

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Inspectors report on Gwent

People assessed as lower risk need to be supervised more closely by the CRC.

Overall the work of the CRC in Gwent was troubling.

These are two headline quotes from Dame Glenys Stacey, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation, in a press release accompanying an inspection report into probation services in Gwent published earlier today (19 April 2017).

Overall findings

Overall, inspectors found that the National Probation Service was performing well:

Contrary to the published performance figures for NPS Wales, which suggest below average performance, the quality of their work was good. Inspectors found strong leadership, motivated staff, readily manageable workloads and some excellent NPS work in Gwent. The quality of work varies place by place, however, which is an issue that leaders must resolve.

However, the inspectorate was very critical of the low level of service that the CRC provider, Working Links, was providing to those assessed as low risk:

For the one in four people assessed as low risk, however, Working Links scale back supervision to a telephone call every six weeks. One in three of these people should also have contact with unpaid work supervisors or other interventions staff if those arrangements work as intended. Inspectors concluded that this means too many people get too little meaningful attention from probation staff. Without meaningful contact, individuals are unlikely to develop the will to change their attitudes and behaviour.

More detailed findings are set out below.

Findings — CRC

The main inspectors’ findings of the work of the CRC were:

  • Work to protect the public was not of sufficient quality.
  • Assessments and planning were good, but the quality of subsequent work was not good enough. In almost half of the cases we inspected, responsible officers had not taken all reasonable action to keep to a minimum the service user’s risk of harm to others.
  • The CRC was not sufficiently effective in delivering interventions to reduce reoffending.
  • Specific services were not available when needed, or at all in some cases. In addition, responsible officers were confused about the purpose and requirements of rehabilitation activity requirements.
  • The needs of female service users were given specific consideration, with women-specific interventions available. There was also a well-established and
    effective multi-agency approach to Integrated Offender Management.
  • Sufficient progress had been made in delivering the requirements of the sentence or licence in three-quarters of inspected cases. Responsible officers generally demonstrated a good understanding of the diverse needs of service users.
  • Inappropriate behaviour, absences judged as not acceptable, and non-compliance were responded to appropriately in nearly three-quarters of cases. There were too many cases, however, where the CRC judged the service user’s non-attendance as acceptable.
  • The extent of organisational change had disrupted some aspects of service delivery, and staff departures and sickness absence had led to poor reporting arrangements for some service users.
  • Managers and responsible officers were driven to meet contractual requirements at a cost to the quality of work. The CRC is facing financial pressures, and
    contractual reporting requirements and performance targets with associated financial implications or penalties had taken precedence.
  • More effective management oversight was required.

The graphic below combines performance for both NPS and CRC:

Findings — NPS

The main inspectors’ findings of the work of the NPS were:

  • The quality of work to protect the public was acceptable overall.
  • Assessments and planning were good, but the quality of subsequent work varied by area, with some work of a high standard. In a small number of cases the work delivered was poor.
  • Quality assurance arrangements made sure there were good quality court reports and accurate allocation decisions. Magistrates were very positive about probation staff court work.
  • Positive progress had been made towards reoffending outcomes, and the large majority of service users had not reoffended. We saw a number of examples where interventions had made a tangible difference in achieving positive outcomes for service users.
  • We found that individuals’ diverse needs had been identified in assessments and taken into account in planning, interventions and reviews in almost all of the cases we inspected.
  • We judged that sufficient progress had been made in delivering the requirements of the sentence in four out of every five cases. Service users were seen frequently enough in all the inspected cases.
  • The large majority of service users had abided by the sentence of the court. We found that appropriate breach action or recall to prison had been taken in every case where it was necessary to do so.

Findings — Co-ordination between NPS and CRC

Overall levels of co-operation and co-ordination between both probation agencies appeared to be working well:

  • Relationships and communications between the two organisations were strong.
  • Risk escalation processes worked well, and relevant performance measures were met. Pre-submission discussions between the CRC and the NPS in each case led to every submitted risk escalation being accepted.
  • From our direct observations, the submission of breach reports was well-managed.
  • With effective lines of communication established, matters of concern arising between the two organisations were easily discussed and addressed.
  • Both organisations demonstrated a commitment to partnership working and to Integrated Offender Management. Their work with women offenders was good. Joint training events provided opportunity for staff from both organisations to learn together.
  • It was not always clear from the ‘rate card’ which services and interventions were available. Consequently, the rate card was seen by the NPS as a barrier to
    accessing services, and there were delays in some service users accessing required interventions.


Overall then, inspectors have found once again that the CRC were performing much less satisfactorily than its NPS counterpart. The inspectorate is admirably direct in making it clear that it does not consider contact by telephone on a 6-weekly basis a proper form of probation supervision. The report is not entirely negative with inspectors’ impressed by the community hub model – but not its operation in practice.

As usual, I leave the last work to Chief Probation Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey:

Assessing the risk that someone might pose is not an exact science, and risks change over time. But in our view, someone’s circumstances can’t be kept under proper review through a telephone call every six weeks. Some other aspects of the CRC’s work are not operating as they should, and it is taking a long time for things to bed down. Staff morale is low and sickness absence high, although we did find committed responsible officers working hard to support people and to help them to change.

The big issue for NPS Wales is that the quality of work varies place by place, yet if all offices could deliver the high quality of work done by the NPS in Newport, then more individuals would be helped to change their lives.

You can see my summary of the findings of the first nine probation inspection reports post-TR in infographic format here.

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