Chris Grayling and the coalition government of the time were repeatedly warned about TR and the smashing up of a gold standard, world-leading public probation service and this blog has continued to be dedicated to bringing this travesty to public attention.
Today we see publication of an utterly damning annual report by Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation which many will take as signalling the beginning of the end for this disastrous, ill-conceived and ideologically-driven piece of political vandalism. This from the Guardian:-
Private probation firms criticised for supervising offenders by phone
The part-privatisation of the probation service has led to tens of thousands of offenders – up to 40% of the total – being supervised by telephone calls every six weeks instead of face-to-face meetings, the chief inspector of probation has revealed. In the first authoritative assessment of the probation reforms introduced in 2014 by Chris Grayling when he was justice secretary, Dame Glenys Stacey said they had created a “two-tier and fragmented” probation system with most private rehabilitation companies struggling to deliver.
The coruscating verdict based on 29 separate inspections over the last 18 months shows that while the performance of the publicly run national probation service (NPS) is rated “good”, that of the 21 private community rehabilitation companies (CRCs), which supervise the majority of the 260,000 offenders on probation every year, is “much more troubling”. When David Lidington became justice secretary in June, he said the probation reforms had encountered “unforeseen difficulties” and announced he would take a close look at their performance.
In her first annual report published on Thursday, Stacey said initial teething problems had been resolved but identified “deep-rooted” organisational and commercial problems that meant probation companies were not delivering the service the government had hoped for or had met ministerial ambitions to transform rehabilitation.
In particular, she voiced serious concern that the one-to-one relationship between probation officer and offender had been broken by the introduction of new models by the private sector that involve up to 40% of offenders being supervised remotely by telephone or in meetings in open booths that lack privacy. Under the model, offenders have an initial face-to-face meeting with a probation worker but then are not seen again while contact is maintained by a junior staff member through a phone call once every six weeks.
“I question whether the current model for probation can deliver sufficiently well. Above all, a close, forthcoming and productive relationship between an individual and their probation worker is key,” the chief inspector wrote. “This is where skilled probation staff add most value, by motivating offenders, working continuously with them to bring about change, and at the same time protecting the public from harm. Yet in some CRCs, individuals meet with their probation worker in places that lack privacy ... or supervised by telephone calls every six weeks or so from junior professional staff carrying 200 cases or more.”
Stacey added she found it “inexplicable that, under the banner of innovation, these developments were allowed”.
The chief inspector’s key findings include:
- Quality of work of CRCs is generally poor and needs to improve in many respects.
- Government expectations that the CRCs would supervise mostly low-risk offenders have not been realised with the majority of offenders under their supervision medium risk. The NPS supervise the high-risk.
- Most CRCs are struggling: “Those owners ambitious to remodel services have found probation difficult to reconfigure or re-engineer. Delivering probation services is more difficult than it appears, particularly in prisons and in rural areas. There have been serious setbacks.”
- Unanticipated changes in sentencing and nature of work going to CRCs have “seriously affected their commercial viability, causing some to curtail, change or stall, their transformation plans, mid-way”.
- Staff numbers have been reduced, some to a worrying extent. Probation workers are carrying 50-90 cases, junior staff up to 200.
- The public national probation service is doing well protecting the public from harm from the most high-risk offenders but there is still room for improvement.
It was disclosed in July that the contracts of eight probation companies had been adjusted in a £277m bailout over the next seven years. Eleven of the 21 companies are owned by two organisations, Sodexo Justice Services and Purple Futures.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said probation officers used their professional judgement to assess the level of supervision an offender needs: “In some cases, lower risk offenders can be supervised by telephone after a thorough, face-to-face risk assessment, and their continued suitability for this type of monitoring will be kept under review.”
The justice secretary, David Lidington, added: “I have made probation a priority in my first six months as justice secretary and I am committed to delivering a service which strictly enforces sentences, reduces reoffending and protects the public.”
This from the Telegraph:-
Thousands of offenders supervised by phone calls after release from prison
Recently released violent criminals are being supervised by telephone because of tight budgets, the Inspectorate of Probation has warned. Thousands of people are having their contact with the probation services limited to a single meeting followed by "remote supervision" by private providers, its annual report said.
In some areas up to 200 ex-offenders are being managed by each member of junior staff with very little experience, who speak to them for less than half an hour by telephone every six weeks. The cases managed by telephone are those assessed to be the lowest-risk, but in some cases they have included offenders with a history of violence who go on to commit more serious crimes.
In one case, a man with almost 30 previous convictions including one for domestic abuse was supervised by telephone only. He assaulted his former partner after becoming homeless and moving back in with her. In another a man with a conviction for supplying Class A drugs was charged with wounding after being managed with six-weekly telephone calls.
The damning report about the probation service found that private "community rehabilitation companies" (CRCs) who managed low and medium-risk offenders are failing to meet Government targets and could be putting the public at risk.
In 2014 the probation system was reformed to transfer responsibility for low and medium-risk offenders to 21 private CRCs, while the national probation service retained responsibility for the highest-risk people.
Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation, said face-to-face work was "vital" and added that she had concerns about how staff knew they were speaking to the correct person on the telephone. "We should all be concerned given the rehabilitation opportunities missed and the risks to the public if individuals are not supervised well," she said.
"In some CRCs, staff numbers have been pared down in repeated redundancy exercises, with those remaining carrying exceptional caseloads. In most, probation officers have been replaced by more junior professional staff."
The most junior staff could have less than a year's experience having only just left college, the inspectors said. Dame Glenys said that workload pressures and remote monitoring "are undermining a central tenet of effective probation work – a consistent, professional, trusting relationship between the individual and their probation worker.”
Speaking at the launch of the report Helen Rinaldi, an assistant chief inspector who also worked on the report, said: "We would advocate that good-quality probation delivery absolutely relies on that central element of the relationship - you can't really influence someone's behaviour unless you've got a relationship with them, and we would just question whether that's as readily achievable if it's purely done on the phone."
The report also found that the Government underestimated the number of higher-risk offenders that would be managed by the companies, with around two thirds of their cases classed as medium rather than low risk. It had initially believed that the vast majority of their cases would be low-risk ones. The companies have also invested funds in new computer systems which do not work properly with the Ministry of Justice's older IT, the report added.
Richard Garside, director of charity the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies said: "So dysfunctional have the government's probation changes become that active sabotage would look much the same."
Secretary of State David Lidington said: “We have already changed CRCs contracts to better reflect their costs and are continuing to review them. We are clear that CRCs must deliver a higher standard of probation services.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson added: "In some cases, lower risk offenders can be supervised by telephone after a thorough, face-to-face risk assessment, and their continued suitability for this type of monitoring will be kept under review.”