19:24, May 13 244 0 theguardian.com

2020-05-13 19:24:04
Government not doing enough to prevent crimes committed on probation – report

The government and probation service are not doing enough to learn from mistakes that led to serious crimes being committed by offenders under supervision, including murder, rape and other violent offences, inspectors have said in a critical report.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) said serious further offence reviews could help prevent further tragedies from happening in the future.

An SFO review is triggered when an offender is charged with the most serious crimes, such as murder, manslaughter, rape, child sexual abuse, while being supervised in the community by the probation service.

There have been a number of high-profile SFOs dealt with in the last year, including the case of serial rapist Joseph McCann and the London Bridge terrorist Usman Khan, who both committed serious further offences while under probation supervision.

About 500 people are charged with SFOs each year. But inspectors found a fifth of SFO reviews failed to give a clear judgment as to whether all reasonable steps had been taken to manage the risk of serious harm.

Justin Russell, the chief inspector of probation, said: “At a national level, more needs to be done to identify trends and themes to drive changes to probation policies and guidance. Until this work is done, the government and probation services are not doing enough to learn from past mistakes. Lessons must be learned to prevent more tragedies in the future.”

Probation services in England and Wales are delivered by a mix of providers. The National Probation Service supervises high-risk offenders in the community, while 21 community rehabilitation companies supervise low- and medium-risk offenders. When an individual who is on probation commits a serious further offence, a manager in the relevant NPS division or CRC conducts an internal review.

Inspectors found SFO reviews often set out the timeline of events, but were less effective at explaining why an offence took place.

Individual probation officers involved in cases are interviewed by the SFO review teams, but often do not see the final reports and have limited opportunities to question the findings, the report said. As a result, staff view the process negatively and believe its primary focus is to attribute blame. Inspectors concluded this “culture of fear” undermined the process.

The Prison and Probation Service is responsible for quality assuring SFO reviews but inspectors found the reviews were not analysed nationally to identify themes, which could have improved policy and practice. Staff shortages have led to backlogs and delays – the Prison and Probation Service quality assurance process should take 20 days but takes an average of six months.

Earlier this year, the justice secretary asked Russell to conduct an independent review into the case of McCann. The first part of that report will be published in June.

The Ministry of Justice has said it disputes the finding that the department should expect to routinely find opportunities to learn at a national level from the majority of SFO reviews.

A MoJ spokesperson said: “Serious further offences are rare but each one is scrutinised so that probation officers can improve the work they do to reduce the risk of others coming to serious harm.

“In most cases, reviews find errors by individuals, rather than systemic failings, and action is taken to address them. However where wider issues have been identified, the National Probation Service has acted to put them right.”