19:10, September 24 90 0 theguardian.com

2018-09-24 19:10:07
Private probation firms 'put victims of abuse at risk'

Tens of thousands of victims of domestic abuse and children are being put at further risk of harm by privatised offender supervision companies whose staff lack the skills, experience and time to supervise perpetrators, according to a new report.

Inspectors found poor practice was widespread in community rehabilitation companies (CRCs), the privatised probation providers introduced in England and Wales under widely derided reforms by the former justice secretary Chris Grayling.

In 71% of cases assessed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) as part of a thematic study into CRCs’ approach to domestic abuse, work to protect victims and children was deemed not good enough. Guardian analysis suggests this figure could be equal to as many as 55,000 cases.

There are 158,727 offenders under probation supervision by CRCs across England and Wales. HMIP said an assessment of previous inspections suggests as many as half – equivalent to around 79,300 cases – feature domestic abuse.

The chief executive of Women’s Aid, Katie Ghose, said: “This report shows that community rehabilitation companies are failing victims, with a significant lack of understanding about domestic abuse, especially coercive control.

“Probation officers are routinely underestimating the ongoing danger posed to the victim and not reassessing the level of risk involved when circumstances change. The findings of this report show that CRCs are currently not fit for purpose when it comes to domestic abuse cases and we call on the government to urgently change this to protect survivors.”

The level and nature of contact with perpetrators was sufficient to help protect victims and children in only 55% of cases looked at by the inspectorate.

In the cases where there should have been a home visit, these had been undertaken in only 19% of cases. Probation staff were also meeting offenders in public spaces such as cafes, which limited the scope to explore and address sensitive and personal issues.

The chief inspector of probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, said: “CRCs play a crucial role in supervising perpetrators of domestic abuse and we found they were nowhere near effective enough, yet good work could make such a difference to families, individuals and communities as a whole.”

Inspectors raised concerns about the falling referral and completion rates for domestic violence prevention programmes, designed to reduce reoffending among perpetrators of abuse. The only course to be accredited by a public authority, called building better relationships, was introduced to probation services in 2012 in a bid to reduce reoffending.

There were 4,452 programmes started in 2016-17, a 7% fall compared with the previous year, the inspectorate says in its report. Of those who started, only 2,041 – or 45% - completed the course, a 12% drop in completions compared with the year before.

In the cases that inspectors looked at, just over a quarter – equal to 29 men – had been referred to the programme. At the time of the inspection, 13 men had started the course. However, in seven cases the course had been cancelled.

“There were too few referrals to this programme,” the report says. “Many individuals experienced extensive delays before joining a course and too many did not complete one.”

The inspection looked at 112 cases and interviewed 30 perpetrators of domestic abuse.

The probation sector in England and Wales was overhauled in 2014 by Grayling, who ignored warnings from within the Ministry of Justice and broke up existing probation trusts, replacing them with a public sector service dealing with high-risk offenders and the CRCs that manage low- to medium-risk offenders.

After a succession of highly critical reports from the inspectorate and the justice committee, as well as derision from those working within the sector, David Gauke, the justice secretary, announced that eight private firms and the 21 CRCs in England and Wales were to have their contracts terminated in 2020, two years earlier than agreed.

Under Gauke’s proposals put out to consultation, the number of CRCs operating in England and Wales will be reduced to 11, with 10 new probation regions to be formed in England plus an additional region in Wales.

Stacey said recasting the contracts presented an opportunity for the ministry to reconsider the issue of how CRCs deal with domestic abuse.

The prisons and probation minister, Rory Stewart, said: “We must protect victims of domestic abuse from any further suffering. That is why we have set out plans to better support victims, bring more offenders to justice and ultimately keep the public safe through our proposed domestic abuse bill.

“We are taking decisive action to improve CRCs by ending current contracts early, investing £22m in through-the-gate services, and we have consulted on how best to deliver probation services in the future.

“This report highlights pockets of good practice to build on, but more must be done. By putting in place new arrangements, we will heed the lessons from what has and hasn’t worked, so probation plays its full part in tackling domestic abuse and protecting victims.”

Richard Burgon, shadow justice secretary, said: “Once again we see how the private probation companies are failing to keep the public safe.



“The government must stop letting victims down and ensure that there is a complete overhaul of probation so that it puts women’s safety first.”

Topics