Understaffed probation service ‘not sustainable’

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Understaffed probation service ‘not sustainable’

Sex attacker Joseph McCann released due to probation error

The National Probation Service overseeing some 106,000 high-risk offenders is facing ‘unreasonably high’ workloads. A new report by HM Inspectorate of Probation has reported ‘critical shortages’ in the service with six out of 10 probation officers over-worked.

Under the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, the Coalition government in 2013 dismantled 35 probation trusts and in their place created the National Probation Service (NPS) for high risk offenders and 21 community rehabilitation companies.

The watchdog inspected all seven NPS divisions which handles 42% of the total probation workload. The quality of case supervision was found to better than their CRCs equivalents – particularly in relation to the management of risk of harm to the public. Last May the government announced a u-turn deciding to return the supervision of thousands of low and medium-risk offenders to the public sector under the supervision of the NPS.

Workloads were ‘high’ with six out of 10 of NPS probation officers bearing a workload over the 100% target. ‘This reflects an ongoing and, in some areas, critical shortage of probation officers, with over 600 vacancies reported in June 2019 across England and Wales,’ wrote the current chief inspector Justin Russell; adding that, once staff were recruited, there was ‘a lack of investment’ in their training and development which was ‘not of a sufficient standard to meet their needs’. Last year the immediate past probation chief inspector called Chris Grayling’s part-privatisation of probation ‘irredeemably flawed’.

In June 2019, there were 3,319 probation officers in post in the MPS versus a requirement of 3,934 – in other words, there were 615 vacancies. This week’s report revealed a striking failure to attract men. The watchdog pointed out that seven out of 10 probation staff were female, whereas 97% of offenders were male. In July 2019, over 60% of probation officers were working in excess of 100% on the NPS workload measurement tool and almost 30% more than 120%. On average, victim liaison officers had 215 cases.

One NPS manager told the watchdog: ‘We are the poor relation in the CJS [criminal justice system]. We have unrealistic targets, too high caseloads and insufficient staff.’

Justin Russell told reporters that probation officers were still failing to carry out ‘basic domestic violence and child safeguarding checks’ on offenders and ‘reoccurring problems’ with the probation service. He was asked if the failings in the Joseph McCann case were inevitable.

‘If you are supervising 105,000 high-risk people then these things happen,’ he replied (as reported by the Press Association). ‘It was a particularly horrible case which left a very large number of traumatised victims behind. It acts as an example of all the issues we have been talking about in terms of our inspection findings. It’s important that probation gets risk management right and actions and checked.’

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said that the report ‘vindicates what Napo has been saying’ since the NPS was formed five years ago. ‘It is not sustainable in its current form and as such we have seen an increase in serious further offences, staff burn out and members reporting a lack of time to complete meaningful work with clients,’ he said.

‘Probation is a vital service for protecting the public and rehabilitating clients back into society. Since it’s part privatisation introduced by Chris Grayling, it has been brought to its knees. The government must now listen to the Unions and the workforce and restore the service to the award winning status it was before.’
Ian Lawrence, Napo