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Probation risk of harm assessments still “inaccurate and incomplete”
HMI Probation's second annual report on Serious Further Offences finds assessments of risk of harm remain inaccurate and incomplete.

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Serious Further Offences

Yesterday, the Probation Inspectorate published its second annual report of Serious Further Offence (SFO) reviews, with the headline conclusion being that assessments of the risk of harm people on probation pose remain inaccurate and incomplete. The report also says that not enough is being done to stop people on probation reoffending and SFO reviews themselves remain below the expected standard.

Serious Further Offences (SFOs) are specific violent and sexual offences like murder, manslaughter and rape committed by people who are, or were recently, under probation supervision. Over 500 SFOs are notified to HMPPS every year and for the victims and families affected the impact and consequences cannot be underestimated.

SFOs

The report includes data on the types of serious further offences over the last two years where data was available. The dates refer to when the SFO was notified and is correct up to 30 September 2022. It is therefore likely that the final total figure for 2020/21 will be higher. Since the pandemic is included in this period, it is likely that some of these serious further offences took considerable time before they came to court. Of the 55 murders notified in 2020/21, 38 people were serving determinate prison sentences while 17 were subject to community supervision at the time they committed this most serious of further offences.

SFO reviews

The vast majority of SFO reviews are conducted by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) itself. The Inspectorate is occasionally requested, by the Secretary of State for Justice, to conduct an independent SFO review, and has this year published reports into the review of the case of Damien Bendall and the review of the case of Jordan McSweeney.

For this annual report, the inspectorate looked at 20 per cent (86 cases) of the SFO reviews conducted by local probation regions between April 2022 and April 2023 – 30 of these involved a serious further offence of murder, and 20 of rape.

Of these 86 SFO reviews that the inspectorate quality assured, 42 per cent of the offences had been perpetrated by an individual who had been assessed as posing a medium risk of serious harm before the offence was committed, and 44 per cent by an individual assessed as posing a high risk of serious harm. This is an increase on the 2021-2022 figures when 33 per cent were assessed as posing a high risk of serious harm. This is a significant rise and emphasises the importance of probation regions carrying out high quality and effective risk management activities.

More than two out of five (42%) of these SFOs reviewed by the inspectorate were managed under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA). Of these almost three quarters (74%) of these were managed at MAPPA level 1 at the point the SFO was committed, and 26 per cent at level 2. None of the cases quality assured were at level 3 at the point the SFO was committed, although some cases had been managed at this level during their supervision period.

There was a disappointing reduction in the number of SFO reviews given a composite rating of ‘Good’ with only 49 per cent of reviews reaching this standard in 2022-2023 compared to 66 per cent in 2021-2022.
The inspectorate’s most recent findings from the quality assurance activity between April 2022 and April 2023 demonstrate that probation regions have not made progress in improving the overall quality of the SFO reviews. Not only that, but there has been a decline in the overall quality, with a total of 47 per cent of reviews being given a composite rating of ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’ against the previous year when 31 per cent were given these ratings.

Conclusion

Chief Probation Inspector Justin Russell (who is moving on from his role this autumn) summed up the report:

It is disappointing to see the quality of satisfactory reviews of serious further offences conducted by the Probation Service reduce by nearly 20 per cent. It is clear, both from the SFO cases we have looked at and our own independent SFO reviews, that the Probation Service must strive to do a better job of consistently and accurately identifying the minority of people on probation at risk of causing serious harm. And learning the lessons from these very concerning incidents.”

He went on to attribute the declining performance around risk assessment to low staffing levels. 

The report concludes by making a number of recommendations for improving the quality of SFO reviews, including revising the operating model used to produce them and maximising the way that learning is shared. 

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