Freedom of information
Many readers will have seen Sunday’s article by the Guardian’s Home Affairs Correspondent Jamie Grierson (@jamiegrierson) on the increase in the number of offenders being supervised by probation who committed serious further offences.
The article was based on a freedom of information request submitted by Mr Grierson which he was kind enough to share with me.
The Guardian revealed that there were 627 serious further offence (SFO) reviews conducted in 2017-18, a 21% rise on the 517 in the previous 12-month period.
SFO reviews are triggered when an offender under statutory probation supervision is charged with murder, manslaughter, rape or other serious violent or sexual offences. The review is commenced at the point of charge and not in all cases will the charge result in a conviction for an SFO.
Among high-profile SFO reviews conducted in the 2017-18 period was the case of Simon Mellors, from Nottingham, who killed his ex-girlfriend, Janet Scott, in January after being released on licence from prison, where he had been serving time for murder.
Other high-profile cases subject to SFO reviews include the rape and murder of Lisa Skidmore by Leroy Campbell in November 2016. He had been released from prison three months earlier after serving 17 years for an attack on another woman.
In 2015 Conner Marshall, 18, was battered to death in Porthcawl, south Wales, by David Braddon, who was being monitored by probation workers after being convicted for drugs offences and assaulting a police officer. He is serving a life term for Marshall’s murder.
There were 270 SFO reviews conducted by Community Rehabilitation Companies in 2017-18, 15% higher than the previous year, while there were 357 SFO reviews conducted by the National Probation Service (NPS), a 26% rise.
In its response to Mr Grierson, the MoJ points out that it’s not possible to compare SFO numbers before and after the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) reforms which introduced the split public/private probation system. This is because the numbers of people under probation supervision have increased markedly because TR introduced compulsory supervision on release for those serving short-term prison sentences. The MoJ maintains that the overall SFO rate has remained steady at approximately 0.5% (1 in 200) people under probation supervision.
In addition to the data provided by the MoJ in response to Mr Grierson’s FOI request, which gives the number of SFO reviews carried out (ie, completed) by the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and the National Probation Service (NPS) between 1 April 2017 and 31 August 2018, I have added in the figures for the previous two years, all of which relate to the period post TR. This makes the size of the increase in the number of SFOs carried out last year even clearer.
The figures provided by the MoJ for SFOs for the first five months of this year appear to show a substantial reduction in the number of SFOs but it is not clear whether these will be the final figures for this period.
One point of particular concern is that London CRC is on course to have a record number of SFOs this year – having already completed 21 reviews from April – August 2018.
As readers will know, the MoJ is currently in the process of re-structuring the probation service again (although it intends to keep the public/private split). We must hope that the lessons learnt from all these serious further offence reviews are fully reflected in the new service specifications.
There will always be further serious offences, but the MoJ must do its best to restrict these tragic events as much as possible by resourcing the probation service properly.