19:04, March 04 252 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-04 19:04:04
Midlands probation firm rated inadequate over high workloads

One of the largest private managers of offenders in the community in England and Wales is failing to protect the public as mounting workloads have become unmanageable, inspectors have said.

Routine checks for child safeguarding and domestic abuse are not being undertaken by probation officers at the Staffordshire and West Midlands community rehabilitation company (CRC), which supervises 12,600 low- and medium-risk offenders, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) said.

In one case, it took seven months for police and safeguarding checks to be undertaken for an offender subject to a court order, which then revealed a history of domestic abuse, and nothing further was done. The officer responsible told inspectors home visits would have been beneficial but the pressure of caseloads made this difficult.

The chief inspector of probation, Justin Russell, said: “The management of risk of harm was not good enough at every stage of supervision. Therefore, we have rated all four aspects that we inspect ‘inadequate’ – our lowest possible grade.”

CRCs were formed in 2014 as part of disastrous changes to the probation sector in England and Wales spearheaded by the justice secretary at the time, Chris Grayling. The privately run groups are responsible for low- to medium-risk offenders, while the most serious criminals are managed by the publicly run National Probation Service (NPS).

The eight private firms that run the 21 CRCs in England and Wales are to have their contracts terminated this year, two years earlier than agreed. The supervision of all offenders in the community is to be brought back under public control by spring 2021.

At Staffordshire and West Midlands CRC, which is owned by the Reducing Reoffending Partnership, a private limited company, inspectors found there had been a deterioration in the quality of case management.

At the time of the inspection, probation staff managed an average of 64 cases each. Almost 70% of staff interviewed said their workloads were unmanageable.

The report said: “In this CRC, there has been a marked decline in the number of assessments we deemed to be sufficiently focused on the risk of harm to others. In too many cases we found that routine checks for child safeguarding and domestic abuse had not been undertaken, or had been initiated and not followed up, or that the available information received had not been incorporated into the assessment of the case.”

The inspectorate found that in 37% of cases, the necessary checks for the sharing of domestic abuse information had not been undertaken.

“Too few cases were reviewed adequately in relation to risk of harm,” the report added. “This is attributable to inadequate attention to the acquisition and use of critical information concerning, in particular, child safeguarding and domestic abuse. There was an absence of professional curiosity in too many cases.”

The Reducing Reoffending Partnership has been approached for comment.