Chief Inspector calls for an independent review of the Probation Service

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Chief Inspector calls for an independent review of the Probation Service

The outgoing Chief Inspector of Probation has issued a damning report. He is calling for an independent review of whether the Probation Service should return to local control two years on from unification into a national service.

The Chief Inspector reports, in an overall assessment that:

'The Probation Service is struggling. It's more than two years since the unification of probation back into the public sector as a single national service. I said at the time that this was unlikely to be the silver bullet many were hoping for. Sadly, this has now proved to be the reality. Yes, there are staffing issues, yes there was a considerable impact from Covid-19, but as this annual report shows we have seen little improvement in our inspections over the past two years. The supervision of people on probation isn't at the level it should be.'

Among the key findings were:

  • Often chronic staffing shortages at every grade which have led to what staff report perceive to be unmanageable workloads caseloads;
  • Poor quality of management oversight of frontline practitioners which was of an acceptable standard in only 28 per cent of cases.
  • Major gaps in the services provided to people on probation to meet the underlying needs which may have driven their offending.
  • Ongoing delays in ensuring that court requirements to complete unpaid work or offending behaviour programmes are delivered.

The Chief Inspector cited public protection as his primary concern, reporting:

'...public protection, [...] has been a consistently weak area for probation in my four years as chief inspector and has become worse since unification. The Probation Service must assess and manage cases where there is a risk of serious harm robustly. We are still seeing safeguarding enquiries with local children's services being made in only 55 per cent of the cases where we feel these are necessary and domestic abuse enquiries with the police in less than half. Probation officers have too many cases and too little time to focus on this key area of their work, putting the public potentially at risk as evidenced in our Serious Offence Reviews of Damien Bendall and Jordan McSweeney.'

His annual report covers the 31 local Probation Delivery Unit (PDU) inspections across 10 regions between June 2021 and July 2023.


The results of these 31 inspections have been "disappointing":

  • only one PDU (South Tyneside and Gateshead) was rated as 'Good'
  • 15 PDUs were rated as 'Requires improvement' and 15 rated as 'Inadequate'
  • the average (mean) score of these inspections was five out of a possible 27.

The quality of sentence management has got worse: when data for the most recent round of inspections is compared to the combined Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and National Probation Services (NPS) data for the same regions from before unification the percentage of cases rated as of sufficient quality was lower across all key quality questions.

Court work and risk of serious harm:

Of the 31 inspections, 22 services had a court team based at the PDU, so their work was also inspected. Half of the PDUs we inspected were rated 'Inadequate' for court work and one-third 'Requires improvement'. One PDU was rated 'Good' and three were rated 'Outstanding'.

Concerns focus on the lack of comprehensive risk assessments at the court report stage:

  • 51% of police domestic abuse checks had not been completed where required
  • 48% of safeguarding checks with local children's services were not completed
  • 58% of home visits were not undertaken where we felt they should have been.

The Chief Inspector concludes:

'If the initial risk assessment at court (or at the start of sentence) is wrong, that error feeds through into poor plans and poor case management... The performance of many court teams was adversely impacted by under-staffing. However, where our inspectors found good performance and high levels of sentencer satisfaction these tended to be because of good strategic planning.'

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Image credit: "Community Payback" by sandwellcouncil is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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