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Report cites probation 'challenges'

Probation services are still working to overcome problems following a shake-up of how criminals are supervised, a report has found

Inspectors found a number of "challenges" identified after the previous Government overhauled the system last year remain unresolved.

Under reforms introduced in June, the National Probation Service (NPS) was created to deal with high-risk offenders while remaining work was assigned to regional Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs).

In its second report assessing the impact of the changes, HM Inspectorate of Probation said it is "clear that the NPS and the CRCs are still at an early stage of their journey".

Staff are struggling with IT systems while they described the roll-out of a tool that assesses the risk of serious re-offending as "rushed and piecemeal" while its results are "sometimes unreliable".

However, inspectors also found that most cases were being allocated correctly and in good time, and a sample of offenders who were interviewed gave positive comments.

Paul Wilson, Chief Inspector of Probation, said: "Given that we are still in the early stages of the implementation of Transforming Rehabilitation, it is not surprising that we found many of the challenges identified in our original report still remain.

"In what is clearly a fast-moving and complex programme of reform, this inspection confirmed that it will take time for a number of the issues to be resolved.

"It is also true to say that some of the challenges identified by our inspections pre-dated the introduction to Transforming Rehabilitation and some of the issues are in the process of being addressed.

"On the ground, too, National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Company staff are working collaboratively to ensure a good standard of delivery of services.

"There is much still to do to streamline processes and reduce bureaucratic burdens that could stifle innovation.

"There remains, too, the need to continue to review and improve IT systems and processes, so that this supports the business of delivering effective, quality services to offenders that contribute to reducing reoffending and the protection of the public."

The report highlighted issues around the risk of serious recidivism (RSR) tool, which helps inform whether cases are allocated to a CRC or remain within the NPS.

It said: "We judged that the process overall was inefficient and time-consuming. A detailed analysis showed that the scores recorded in the risk of serious recidivism were sometimes unreliable."

The report described the RSR as "an important tool" but recommended reviewing rules that mean the RSR must be carried out in all cases

Issues in processes prior to offenders being sentenced also emerged.

CRC staff told inspectors they were not always informed that cases known to them were due in court until after the event, which "could have serious consequences for the appropriate management of a case".

In one instance, a CRC was not told that an offender with a history of domestic abuse was given bail after initially being remanded in custody, leaving the individual with no reporting instructions and " potentially representing a risk of harm to the victim".

Overall, the report made 20 recommendations.

Tania Bassett, of the National Association of Probation Officers, said the report was "not a surprise".

She said: " We know from our members that there are still significant IT concerns which are preventing the new providers from relocating their offices and causing extra work and stress for our members.

"The duplicating of work and bureaucratic forms filling has also increased workload for an already overstretched workforce.

"We hope the new Secretary of State will engage with us as soon as possible to discuss how this situation can and must be improved to ensure effective public protection and improve staff morale."

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Public protection is our priority. This report shows there is still a lot to do to get rehabilitation right. We are determined to improve."


From Belfast Telegraph