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In her first report since taking over the role of Chief Inspector of Probation in March 2016, Dame Glenys Stacey pulled no punches as she gave a stark assessment of the challenges facing the sector.

She felt the Government reform of probation had created a ‘two-tier and fragmented’ system in which private companies were performing significantly worse than public sector elements and that unexpected changes in sentencing, financial cutbacks, and IT failings had undermined the ambitions of private Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) to bring innovative approaches to probation.

However, there were positives: Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) are working well and the public sector National Probation Service (NPS), responsible for supervising higher risk offenders, is good, though with room for improvement.

CRCs facing challenges

The picture, however, from inspections of CRCs – the 21 private companies responsible for supervising medium or lower risk clients - was “much more troubling” with her report highlighting “deep-rooted” organisational and commercial problems and finding the quality of CRC as “generally poor” and needing to improve.

The 35 self-governing probation trusts were replaced by a new public sector National Probation Service (NPS), under HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) owned by eight organisations, in June 2014 with each different in constitution and outlook.

Hampering the CRCs, she said, were difficulties in reconfiguring or re-engineering probation services; IT connectivity challenges; wrestling with government data protection and other system requirements; unanticipated changes in sentencing and the nature of work coming to CRCs; staff absences; and workload issues.

Report identifies key concerns

With CRCs responsible for delivering the bulk of Rehabilitation Activity Requirements (RARs), HMI Probation inspectors found the work was poor quality, with too little purposeful activity for offenders.

Dame Glenys said face-to-face work with offenders was vital after discovering some CRC operating models allowed up to four in ten individuals to be supervised remotely (for example, by six-weekly telephone contact) rather than meeting probation offices in person, and in some CRCs individuals meet with their probation worker in places that lack privacy.
There were fewer tried and tested, evidence-based ways of reducing reoffending being ordered such as ‘accredited programmes’ designed to help individuals with problems such as perpetrating domestic abuse. And CRC-provided resettlement services to prisoners being released were generally poor, providing little real help with housing, jobs, addiction and debt, with access to, for example, someone in a substance misuse job vital for rehabilitation. 

She said none of government’s stated aspirations for Transforming Rehabilitation – with the voluntary sector expected to play a key role in delivering probation services and with new ways to rehabilitate offenders - have been met in any meaningful way.

“We should all be concerned, given the rehabilitation opportunities missed, and the risks to the public if individuals are not supervised well,” said Dame Glenys.

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