Friday, 1 September 2017

So, How Is Privatised Probation Doing?

Regular readers will recall that TR would pick the best practice that was available and innovation would reign supreme. So, some three years into the privatised contracts and having been rewarded with extra government cash, how are things going? 
"This CRC’s work is so far below par that its owner and government need to work together urgently to improve matters, so that those under supervision and the general public receive the service they rightly expect, and the staff that remain can do the job they so wish to do." Dame Glenys Stacey, HMI 
"So here's the rub:Prisons violent crime-ridden filthy; privatised community punishment a shambles endangering public." Frances Crook, Howard League
"Overall, we note we are performing relatively well compared to other CRCs and are performing well against targets set by the Ministry of Justice." A BGSW CRC spokesman
This from the GloucestershireLive website:- 

Privatised arm of Gloucestershire Probation Service slated by inspector over 'drastic cuts' to balance the books

The privatised arm of the service charged with rehabilitating offenders has been rated as ‘poor’ by inspectors. Despite ‘heroic efforts’ by staff, the service was nowhere near the standard expected, said Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation. Today she published a report of a recent inspection of probation work in Gloucestershire. She blamed ‘drastic cuts’ aimed at balancing the books by the operator of Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire Community Rehabilitation Company, Working Links.

Overall, the work of the CRC in Gloucestershire was poor, she found. Working Links has not implemented its plans (as set out in its original contract bid) for continuity of support for people throughout their period of supervision. Instead she found cases being transferred between case managers too often, and staff carrying too many cases. Allocation decisions were based on a model which was not fully understood by staff, partly because it was complex, changing and not fully implemented.

She found that the CRC operating model is not working as it should, and the high caseloads of responsible officers are unreasonable. Managers and staff are working hard, but sickness absence levels are high, and the quality of work is poor overall – because staff are over-burdened and not given the professional support expected. Assessment and planning was mixed, and plans were not being followed through well enough and some offenders were not being seen often enough, the report found. As a result, the public are more at risk than necessary, and those people who may turn their lives around may be denied the chance to do so.

CRCs are responsible for low and medium risk offenders and took up the contracts across the country three years ago. The quality of work from the NPS with higher-risk offenders in Gloucestershire was reasonably good overall, however – this part of the service was not privatised. Inspectors made recommendations which included: the CRC reducing individual caseloads to manageable levels, ensuring managers are allocated responsibilities which are reasonable and achievable so that they can support frontline staff, and improving unpaid work arrangements.

Dame Glenys said: 

“The National Probation Service was performing reasonably well, and the public can be reassured that those people who pose a higher risk are generally being supervised to an acceptable standard in Gloucestershire, although more could be done to reduce the risk that individuals reoffend. The picture was much more troubling at the Community Rehabilitation Company, where there have been drastic staff cuts to try and balance the books. Those remaining are under mounting pressure and carrying unacceptable workloads that prevent them doing a good job. This CRC’s work is so far below par that its owner and government need to work together urgently to improve matters, so that those under supervision and the general public receive the service they rightly expect, and the staff that remain can do the job they so wish to do.”

A Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire Community Rehabilitation Company spokesman said in a statement: 

“We welcome the publication of this report, which has highlighted many pieces of good practice as we work hard to combat reoffending. We are particularly pleased with the inspectors’ praise of our education, training and employment activity, our dedicated women’s services, our hard-working people and their relationships with the National Probation Service. Overall, we note we are performing relatively well compared to other CRCs and are performing well against targets set by the Ministry of Justice. However, we recognise there are areas of our work which we need to improve on if we are to be successful in achieving our ambitious goals. We will be working even harder, alongside our colleagues in the National Probation Service, to address the issues identified and deliver the services which the public, courts and our service users require from us.”


From the HMI report:-

The Working Links target operating model 

The operating model differs from that envisaged at the time the contracts were awarded. The target model was based on ‘community based case managers, following the principle of consistent case management, employing a single case manager to support the end to end offender journey from allocation to the contractor to completion of sentence requirements’ 16. At the time of the inspection, however, we found cases being transferred between case managers due to staff leaving the CRC and the establishment of the Operational Hub. The CRC still aspires to consistent case management, with a single case manager supporting the service user throughout, unless this is not in the interests of good risk management. Once the operating model stabilises, the situation may improve, but meanwhile staff shortages and absences continue to compromise the ambition set out in the target model. 

At the heart of case allocation decisions is a tool known as the BRAG (blue, red, amber and green) model, which is used to categorise offenders by their assessed level of risk and needs and indicate the level of supervision, grade of staff responsible and mode of service delivery. Offenders are to be assessed and regularly reviewed to identify dynamic risk factors that may require changes to the supervision, such as increased contacts, targeted use of rehabilitation activity requirement (RAR) days or attendance at the Community Hub.

Although the concept seems straightforward, it is more complex than it first appears. The BRAG assessment looks at four key elements: the risk of serious harm; the likelihood of reoffending (which will include the type and potential impact of such offending on victims); the likelihood of engagement or disengagement with the sentence; and, finally, complex factors and vulnerability. In order to be classified as green, the offender would need to show evidence of stability, the capacity to change and behaviour supportive of desistance. 

To be suitable for the Operational Hub, a case has to be assessed as low risk of serious harm. Some green, medium risk of serious harm, cases are managed in the front office through face-to-face contact, which may take place in the Community Hub. Similarly, some custody cases – such as those held by probation officers (POs) or managed under the Integrated Offender Management (IOM) scheme – remain with the front office, while others are managed in the Operational Hub. 

Most CRC staff did not fully understand the model, partly because it was complex, changing, and not fully implemented. We judged that they had not received enough training, and were particularly concerned that staff may not always have understood the distinction between low risk of harm and risk of serious harm when transferring cases to the Operational Hub. Moreover, at the time of the inspection, 13% of cases did not have a BRAG status at all. 

The proportion of cases in each category necessarily changes over time, and may differ from the initial assumptions underpinning resource distribution. So, for example, a smaller percentage of the caseload was held by the Operational Hub than was assumed by the target operating model. Plans to migrate all suitable cases to the Operational Hub by the end of April 2017 have not yet been fully implemented.


  1. What are the caseloads of staff in Gloucestershire?

    1. From the report:-

      "POs were carrying in the region of 75 cases and PSOs in the community were generally carrying over 90 cases. This is higher than the envisaged end-state figures. We were reminded frequently by staff that these figures did not include the traditionally ‘easier to manage’ cases, now managed in the Operational Hub, where caseloads were up to 200 cases each."

  2. 75 cases!

    I'm at 50+ and struggling.

  3. Working links like all the other big outsourcing companies are only interested in squeezing as much money as possible from their contract.
    They have no knowledge of the services they're charged to provide, and no interest in improving those services.
    The MoJ knew that when awarding the contract in the first place. The private providers might all be failing dirty and money grabbers, but it's the MoJ that must shoulder the blame.

    As an aside, Panorama on Monday night is set to ask questions of the MoJ outsourcing processes and privatisation.


  4. as a pso my case load is 80 i am definately struggling

  5. How is privatised probation doing?
    Very nicely for the providers with lucrative contracts.
    Not very well at all for the recipients of services who despite all the rethoric that surrounded TR are actually getting less support and access to services then they were pre-privatisation.

    1. A MAN was sent back to prison a day after his release after cracking a window at the probation office, a court heard.

      Robert Butler, 39, of no fixed abode, became frustrated about his housing situation before throwing two chairs at a glass partition at Hereford Probation Services offices.

      Butler pleaded guilty to criminal damage of a glass window and small panel belonging to Hereford Probation Service.

      He also pleaded guilty to breaching a criminal behaviour order by shouting and swearing in a public place.

      Sara Beddow, prosecuting at Hereford Magistrates Court on Thursday, said that on July 20 Butler had been sentenced to six weeks in prison after breaching an order and was released the previous day (Wednesday).

      He went to the probation service office in Hereford who subsequently reported to the police that he was present and causing damage to their property.

      Butler had became abusive to a member of staff when they asked him to leave.

      "That member of staff was within a secure area behind a glass partition," said Miss Beddows.

      "Butler shouted further abuse and punched the glass partition. He then threw two chairs at the partition area causing the glass to crack which will need to be replaced."

      Further damage was caused to that adjacent fire door.

      The incident caused distress to the staff member who feared for her safety due to his aggressive and threatening behaviour.

      Marilena Di Vitantonio, mitigating, said that prior to going to custody Butler had been homeless for one year and had lived on the streets for some time.

      "He went to the probation service as he was led to believe that accommodation would be found for him on his release," said Miss Di Vitantonio.

      "The problem being he consumed alcohol on his way to the probation office. He was told that there was nowhere to live as nothing was being released so he would be back on the streets again.

      "It's a vicious circle as he doesn't have accommodation so consumes alcohol to make the day go quicker but he does want to change."

      Magistrates sent Butler back to custody and ordered him to complete eight weeks consecutively to his current sentence for breaching his criminal behaviour order and one week to run concurrently for criminal damage.

      No costs or compensation was ordered but Butler was told to pay a £115 victim surcharge.

    2. Perhaps Mr Butler's legal team could explore the possibility of suing Chris Grayling, Jeremy Wright, et al under the trades descriptions Act?

      And why (as if we didn't know) after being introduced in para 2, is Mr Butler simply referred to as 'Butler'? Miss Beddows & Miss Di Vitantonio are afforded the courtesy of respectful titles subsequent to their introduction to the reader.

      All in it together? Or Us & Them?

  6. Theresa May openly bribes 10 M.Ps for a billion pounds so she could remain in government and the British public accept it. Inspections highlight inadequacies in public safety but it will be tomorrow's chip paper and filed in the bin because we are an apathetic nation. Evil prospers while the good stand by and observe. Exposing this corrupt, rotten cabinet may lead to a general election, fingers crossed. A new dynamic Labour leader will help

  7. Sadly not unsurprisingly the positive report form HMIP regarding South Yorkshire CRC was not a feature on this blog. Hardly surprising given the agenda clearly at play here. Gloucester CRC MTC NoVO badly performing but hardly a level playing field with HMPPS.

    1. Reply to 00:03, South Yorkshire CRC were placed in special measures in 2015... what resources were thrown at you to get you back to being just average. Still slated for a poor operating model that blatantly does not work. All CRCs wheel out probation interventions for women as the shining light because that ticks a big box, but the rest are poorly served by pre TR standards. For balance, you can only judge the quality of CRC inspection reports against the pre TR inspections to judge where we are today....just a very sick patient on life support.

  8. I am aware of around a dozen HMIP reports commenting on CRC performance over recent years, bar the odd highlight, carefully stage-managed in some cases I am told, the CRC landscape is failed. It isn't an agenda on the part of this blog, rather the inspectorates findings supported by a huge dollop of professional testimony that speaks of general unadulterated failings. Privatisation has failed and no gloss or polish can deny this unfortunate but wholly avoidable and, for some, inconvenient truth.

    1. To be fair, Anon at 00:03 has a valid point. This blog is not the BBC with a legal duty to be balanced - however it is open to discussion and debate and I'm quite happy to publish anything that seeks to make a case for TR working. There's an open offer for Guest Blog pieces - possibly Anon 00:03 could be tempted?

    2. Many local councils are now adopting an insourcing approach to services. They've worked out they're paying far more and the services they're paying for are failing, it's just bad business.
      Yet the government permit in handing all they can to the privateers,and they too know it's bad business.
      They're currently selling NHS recruitment to Staffline, whilst at the same time paying other recruitment agencies £100million to recruit doctors from abroad.
      It's clear privatised probation is a failed venture. Employees of privatised bin collections are on strike. So to are those working for the privatised railways, and now the recently sold off Royal mail are about to take industrial action.
      G4s, an old favourite of government outsourcing has hit the headlines again with yet a not her scandal with a government contract. How many more times you might ask before they're blacklisted given they're still under investigation by the SFO for a different scandal with a government contract. Well no problem. The press reported yesterday that G4S shareholders have just shrugged their shoulders at the news. They know nothing will come of it and no contracts will be lost.
      And didn't the MoJ get its maths wrong and have to pay an extra £115 million for prison maintenance?
      I defy anyone to identify a public service that's been privatised or outsourced that's not costing more then it was when it was publicly owned, or identify a service that's at least performing to the same standards as it was before privateers got involved.
      The evidence is extensive, privatisation of public services does not cost less and in every case standards are driven down.
      Privatisation and outsourcing is just a mask for right wing ideology that's hell bent on shrinking the state whatever the cost financial or otherwise.

  9. Elderly and Learning Disabilities Services went into the private sector years ago in an effort to cut costs. Due to scandal after scandal, incident after incident, whistleblower after whistleblower, Local Authorities are now taking these services back in-house and paying staff more favourably (e.g. Staffordshire). As a result, the private companies are haemorrhaging the staff that they cannot afford to pay competitively. The whole thing comes full circle. This is already happening to CRCs after only two years. It's the dead parrot sketch. This TR malarkey is merely dozing......