The probation watchdog has found that the private companies that provide half of probation services in England and Wales were significantly under-performing in relation to victims of domestic abuse.
Since 2014, under Chris Grayling’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms probation services have been delivered through two channels: a public National Probation Service and by 21 private-sector community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) accountable to the Ministry of Justice. CRCs are tasked with managing cases assessed at sentence as posing a low or medium risk of harm to others. The provision of services, from accommodation to education, is geared towards reducing reoffending.
According to a HM Probation Inspectorate report headed by the chief inspector Dame Glenys Stacey, there was ‘no overall strategy’ from the Ministry of Justice or Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to ‘drive the quality of CRC’s domestic abuse practice’. Failure to prioritise good quality and safe practice over process deadlines was widespread. While CRCs are delivering programmes such as ‘Building Better Relationships’, referral rates were low, and delays extensive. The inspector found too many services, moreover, are delivered by staff who lack the necessary confidence and knowledge.
With respect to reducing reoffending, many assessments conducted by CRCs were ‘superficial’ and staff lacked the skills to assess cases thoroughly. Neither were reviews of individuals carried out routinely. The report also expressed great concern in relation to the CRCs’ work to protect victims and especially children. Many probation workers failed to appreciate the relevance of an integrated approach to managing risk of harm, focussing on the individual to the exclusion of the wider family. This is compounded by an over-reliance on the decisions of other agencies, such as children’s social care and the National Probation Service without checking their validity.
Although the performance of CRCs was not entirely sub-par. They have proven somewhat successful in Community Safety Partnerships and were reckoned to be valued members of Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences and other joint ventures, thereby enhancing the provision of interventions. Communicative limitations, however, remained a mitigating factor to safeguarding victims in all circumstances.
This report showed that CRCs were ‘failing victims with a significant lack of understanding about domestic abuse, especially coercive control’, said Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid.
‘Probation officers are routinely underestimating the ongoing danger posed to the victim, and not reassessing the level of risk involved when circumstances change,’ Ghose said. ‘The findings of this report show that Community Rehabilitation Companies are currently not fit for purpose when it comes to domestic abuse cases, and we call on the government to urgently change this to protect survivors.’