Probation service: Staff shortfall leads to ‘sharp decline’

A cost-cutting restructure has had a ‘profound’ effect on a probation service, according to inspectors.

HM Inspectorate of Probation conducted a part-inspection of the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) in March. The CRC supervises nearly 3,000 low and medium-risk offenders; some are serving community sentences while others have left or are preparing to leave prison.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “In 2018-2019, Hampshire & Isle of Wight was the only one out of 21 CRCs to be rated ‘Good’.

“On our return, it was disappointing to find a sharp decline in the quality of work with individuals under probation supervision. We have concluded this is directly related to a shortfall in sufficiently trained and experienced probation staff.”

The CRC is owned by Purple Futures, a consortium of private and third-sector businesses. Senior leaders explained that they went ahead with a restructure because the consortium had reduced income and needed to cut costs.

The new operating model was based on an experienced and skilled workforce being in place. Senior leaders had failed to take sufficient account of the need for skilled staff and the time required to recruit and train new case managers.

Inspectors found there had been a 38 per cent reduction in the number of senior case managers since the previous inspection. While the number of lower-grade case managers had risen significantly, 45 per cent were new to the service.

Mr Russell said: “After the last inspection, we warned that substantial changes to the workforce would put the quality of work at risk.

“It takes time for new probation staff to develop the knowledge, skills and experience to handle complex cases. The negative impact of the restructure on the service has been profound.”

Inspectors found new staff had been assigned complex cases that were beyond their level of experience. More established staff had high workloads, which compromised the quality of their work. Management oversight was stretched and did not pay enough attention to potential risks of harm.

In contrast, inspectors found a much-improved Through the Gate service for individuals preparing to leave prison and resettle in the community. The CRC received additional funding from central government and this area of work was rated ‘Outstanding’. The delivery of unpaid work schemes continued to be rated ‘Good’.

Mr Russell said: “This inspection was cut short because of the lockdown. As such, we have not rated parts of this CRC’s work or given an overall rating.

“All probation services – including Hampshire & Isle of Wight CRC – have been under enormous pressure during the lockdown.

“Local leaders understand the problems faced by this CRC and, to their credit, they have communicated openly with staff. We hope the organisation continues to pull together and make further improvements.”

Melanie Pearce, Director of Operations at the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Community Rehabilitation Company, said: “We welcome the report and are pleased HM Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) recognise the excellent support we provide to people leaving prison and the good standard of our Community Payback delivery.

“The report correctly identifies well-documented resourcing pressures resulting from the Ministry of Justice’s original contracts with all of the UK’s CRCs. These funding issues meant we had to reduce costs.

“We launched a robust action plan in early 2019 and believe the training measures we already have in place have gone a long way to addressing the issues highlighted by the HMIP Report. Protecting the public is our priority and we are proud of the services we deliver.”