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Probation must improve work with BAME service users – and staff

Inspectors say probation services must show greater consideration and confidence in their work with black, Asian and minority ethnic service users and staff.

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Urgent action needed

Probation services must show greater consideration and confidence in their work with black, Asian and minority ethnic service users and staff, according to a new HMI Probation report published today: Race equality in probation: the experiences of black, Asian and minority ethnic probation service users and staff . Inspectors found the probation service’s focus on racial equality has declined since Transforming Rehabilitation reforms were introduced in 2014. They also found the service has no specific strategy for delivering activity to ethnic minority service users.

More than 222,000 people are supervised by probation services across England and Wales. Around a fifth of people on probation are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. Over the course of two months, inspectors interviewed National Probation Service (NPS) and Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) staff and managers in five different probation areas and analysed 100 cases and 51 pre-sentence reports. Through a team of former service users (recruited and supervised and supported by EP:IC), views were gathered from over 80 people being supervised by the service and inspectors also received 100 responses to a survey of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff in our fieldwork areas.

Concerning findings

The results were concerning. In the 100 cases of ethnic minority service users, there was little evidence that probation staff had spoken with service users about their ethnicity, culture, religion, and experiences of discrimination, or planned interventions that were responsive to these diversity factors. This was confirmed by service users. While assessment and planning to address offending-related factors were good, engagement with ethnic minority service users requires improvement and is worse than inspectors found on average in their adult probation inspections. Too few service users were engaged with services to support their rehabilitation and, while half of the service users described a positive relationship with their responsible officers, others were less positive.

Inspectors said they were disappointed not to find more good practice. Since the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, the Inspectorate found the number of services for black, Asian and minority ethnic service users has decreased, and there are fewer resources devoted to work on equality and diversity. Probation staff have fewer links with organisations in the community that can support individuals’ move away from crime, and organisations that can provide culturally appropriate services are rarely commissioned. Work is required to understand and apply the most effective approaches to respond to the needs of ethnic minority service users. There are few programmes to address racially motivated offending, and ethnic minority staff are frequently expected to take on these cases without support or consultation.

Training

Inspectors found that there were gaps in training across all grades in the organisation, and training needs to lead to improved understanding and behaviour change. The proportion of ethnic minority staff is reasonably representative of the racial composition of England and Wales. Many ethnic minority staff, however, are keen to progress and are still under-represented in management positions in some areas. There is a gap in development planning for all frontline staff, and a view that recruitment and selection are not universally fair, open and transparent, which needs addressing.

BAME staff lack of confidence in managers

Many ethnic minority staff inspectors surveyed or spoke with say they lack confidence in the ability or willingness of managers across the NPS and CRCs to respond appropriately to their concerns. This lack of confidence is born out of repeated experiences over many years of raising issues and having them downplayed, ignored or dismissed. There is a critical and urgent need to review complaint and grievance procedures and to train managers to deal confidentially and sensitively with issues of discrimination as they arise.

The report notes that HMPPS has recently launched its Race Action Programme and has made additional funding available to support the development of organisations providing specific support to black, Asian and minority ethnic service users.

Chief Inspector Justin Russell said that this work “needs to be taken forward at pace and real and rapid progress made to further race equality in probation”. He also committed to re-inspect this work again within two years and to introduce a more robust set of standards around this issue for our HMI Probation’s local inspections.

 

Header photo by Don Ross III on Unsplash

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