Officers urged to 'think victim'
Probation officers are failing to challenge some of the most serious criminals over the impact their offences have had on victims, inspectors have warned.
Offender managers did not grasp the full emotional and physical consequences of a crime for the victim in more than half of the cases looked at by HM Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP), which included murder and rape.
Failing to get officers to "think victim" meant offenders' risk-management plans did not address what needed to be done to keep the victim safe, HMIP added.
And in one case a letter sent from the victim liaison unit within a probation trust had been sent to an unnamed bereaved mother in the name of her murdered daughter.
Chief inspector of probation Liz Calderbank said: "Offender managers need to be more cognisant of the impact on the victim, far more cognisant of the impact on the victim.
"In terms of informing their risk assessment and questioning the credibility of the offender and maintaining that detachment... from the offender."
Ms Calderbank added offender managers need to "be objective" when dealing with criminals.
As well as a responsibility for supervising offenders, carried out by offender managers, staff in probation trusts have a statutory responsibility to contact victims of violent or sexual crime where the perpetrator has been jailed for 12 months or more.
The HMIP inspection of the Victim Contact Scheme looked at 72 cases across six trusts and was launched following a request from the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses who had received complaints about the work of probation trusts.
In its inspection report, HMIP said: "We took a strong view that it was important for the offender manager to have a good understanding of the emotional and physical impact of the offence upon the victim so that they knew about the victim's continuing anxieties and fears about the risk of harm they believed the offender still posed towards them.
"With that understanding, the offender manager would have been better able to introduce meaningful victim awareness/empathy work into their supervision sessions with the offender.
"However, we found in many cases that the victim's emotional and psychological damage was insufficiently recognised, by offender managers."
In one case study, two men had harassed and violently assaulted a 52-year-old male victim, who as a result suffered worsening depression and deepening anxiety.
HMIP said it was "very disappointing" to see the offender manager had simply described the impact of the offence on the victim as "sustaining a broken arm".
Victim liaison units within probation trusts should send letters to victims who are covered by the statutory requirement within 40 working days of sentencing the offender.
Initial letters should be more succinct, informed and relevant, HMIP found.
Asked if a "template letter" was being used, Ms Calderbank said: "That is the case, yes. If it's a good tempate, there's nothing wrong with that. There's merit in everyone getting the same information and these are incredibly difficult letters to write as individual ones so I don't minimise the challenge here.
"We're certainly not critical of using templates but if you are using a template - get it right."
The work probation trusts did to keep victims of crime informed and prepared for an offender's release was generally of a high standard, Ms Calderbank added.
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: " I am pleased this report recognises victims were overwhelmingly satisfied with the service received from Victim Liaison Officers. But we are not complacent. Victims must get the support and information they deserve as set out in the new Victims' Code.
"We will carefully consider these recommendations - clearly it is essential that those managing offenders in the community take proper account of the impact the crime has had on the victim.
"Our Transforming Rehabilitation reforms will see the new public sector National Probation Service take on responsibility for this important area of work."