9 things we learned from the Probation Inspector’s new report

1. Private companies are doing a terrible job

A new report from the Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey is scathing about the private companies who are meant to be rehabilitating offenders.

The part-privatisation of the probation service was pushed through by Chris Grayling.

In this new system, the publicly-run National Probation Service (NPS) deals with high-risk offenders while private Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) supervise low and medium-risk offenders.

CRCs are run by outsourcing companies like Sodexo, MTCNovo and Working Links.

In the report, Stacey said this system was “irredeemably flawed” and “public ownership is the safer option for the core work.”

Here’s 9 things we learned from the report.

  1. CRCs, which are privately-run, are doing terribly

Around 80% have been rated inadequate.by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation.

This poor performance has led to magistrates having less confidence in the probation system.

Nearly 40% of magistrates said in 2016 that they have less confidence in probation now than they did under previous arrangements.

Public sector probation officers from the National Probation Service are also reluctant to use CRCs because “of concerns about the quality of services to be provided, or whether they represent value for money, or because of an instinctive reluctance to pay for services.”

“Professional probation staff do not see themselves as purchasers, and most do not want to be,” the report says.

At the same time that magistrates’ faith in probation is falling, they are ordering more and more prison sentences rather than community sentences.

While Stacey says she can’t be sure that one is causing the other, it’s what she suspects.

This is a shame as she says community sentences are better than short prison sentences – both in terms of rehabilitating criminals and in terms of value for money.

2. CRCs are failing to protect the public from harm

The report says that, while the publicly-run NPS has “a little room for improvement, much more needs to be done in the CRCs we have inspected”. There is “insufficient focus on the requirement to keep people safe”.

According to the Ministry of Justice, over 225 criminals supervised by CRCs went on to commit a murder between 2015 and 2018. In the same period, 142 criminals supervised by NPS did the same. NPS supervises “high risk” offenders while CRCs take on “medium” and “low” risk.

3. CRCs are making huge losses

As of March 2018, the CRCs were forecasting losses of £294m as opposed to the £269m profit they said they would make at the bidding stage.

4. Criminals have usually had difficult lives

While, of course, not everyone whose had a difficult life commits crime, Stacey says that many criminals have “had an unfair start in life”.

Many were neglected by parents, about half were abused as children and about a quarter were taken into care. This means they find it harder to gauge risk, control temper, resist impulses and conform to society.

Many have no qualifications, special educational needs and were expelled from school. “A worrying number” are addicts and suffer with anxiety, depression other mental health conditions.

As they are often both “troubled” and “troublesome”, Stacey says that working with them is a difficult job.

5. Supportive probation is more effective than tougher sanctions

According to the report: “A supportive but challenging relationship with a probation professional is key. Supportive approaches – matched to individual need – are more likely to work to reduce crime than tougher approaches and sanctions.”

6. Probation is getting worse

The probation system is going downhill, Stacey says. “Above all, in the day-to-day work of probation professionals, there has been a notable drift away from the evidence base for effective probation services.”

“In too many cases, there is not enough purposeful activity. Core probation supervision has been allowed to coast. This has undermined the place of evidence-based and evidence-led practice.

7. Housing and benefit worries make it hard for ex-prisoners to adapt into the community

Ensuring “the timely provision of accommodation and benefits payments” is one of the report’s key recommendations.

“Those without a place to live are notably more likely to reoffend and to be sentenced to custodial sentences,” the report says. “Speedier payment of benefits would be more likely to sustain an individual’s motivation to turn away from crime, and reduce the prospect of individuals stealing to sustain themselves.”

Homelessness charity Crisis has said that prison leavers often become homeless. Often, they were either homeless before they went to prison or lost their accomodation when they entered prison.

On their release, they struggle to find accomodation with a private landlord or access the housing element of Universal Credit fast enough. If they go to the local council, they are often turned away for not being “priority need”. Prisoners are given between £47 and £97 on leaving prison but this does not last very long.

8. There’s not enough people wanting to be probation officers

The report highlights ”high workload” as one of the factors putting people off. The GMB union has said that the probation officers it represents are overworked and demoralised.

Stacey also says “professional staff pay arrangements should be developed to recognise regional and area pressures”. Presumably, this means staff in expensive areas like London should be paid more.

The offices in which probation staff work are often old, “shabby” and “insecure”, the report said, and maintenance work should be carried out.

9. CRCs and the NPS don’t communicate well enough

In 85% of cases, CRCs and NPS don’t share offices. Much of the time, communication and coordination between the two is ineffective.

Joe Lo is a freelance journalist and a reporter for Left Foot Forward

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3 Responses to “9 things we learned from the Probation Inspector’s new report”

  1. Stephen Holloway

    I would like to add that the abysmal Senior management of my CRC has been bullying, inefficient, ineffective and lacking in any real understanding of Probation work. They concentrate on enforcing a bewildering number of targets that they make opaque by coding them rather than translating them into meaningful and understandable objectives. When my CRC split from the NPS, we didn’t even have an office to go to and work from; the senior management had ‘forgotten’ to get one for my neighbourhood. I was forced to see a man with severe mental health problems who had, that morning, been released from prison, in the back of a Police Car. The man was very scared and believed I was going to recall him.
    As our external training providers were very poor, I used some personal contacts to try to help my CRC. I was offered a scheme whereby a very big building training company would transport, train and give offenders jobs if they passed the training courses. All of this was at no cost to my CRC. I was offered Ten such opportunities. Not only did our Director turn down the offer but I was reprimanded for ‘bringing my CRC into disrepute ‘. I later found out that the Director had links to our external training provider and he feared its uselessness would be found out.
    The whole thing is a shambolic waste of money that was Ill conceived, badly managed and resulted in turning a high performing organisation into a risky enterprise peopled by demotivated and overworked staff.

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