Probation officers are failing to adequately assess risk
Probation practitioners are failing to draw on a wide enough range of information when assessing risk, the annual report by the probation inspectorate has found.
HM Inspectorate of Probation found that domestic abuse enquires with the police were made in only 49 per cent of the cases where the inspectors felt they should have been while safeguarding enquiries were made with local children’s services in only 55 per cent of cases the inspectorate would expect to have seen.
"A focus solely on the most recent conviction means that past evidence of risk such as violence against previous partners or evidence of weapon use or gang membership is being missed," said the report.
Inspectors were "particularly concerned" about the lack of a comprehensive risk assessment at the court report stage. If the initial risk assessment at court, or at the beginning of sentence, is wrong, that error feeds through into poor plans and poor case management, the annual report warned.
"There is a recurring failure (also evident in our local inspections) to undertake adequate enquiries with the police and local councils about domestic abuse or child and adult safeguarding risk," the report added.
When addressing people released from prison, the inspectorate found that there was a significant shortfall in the information received from other agencies, such as police intelligence, and in domestic abuse and child safeguarding enquiries, to keep other people safe.
While acknowledging these difficulties in accessing intelligence, inspectors said that in some cases probation practitioners had stopped trying.
Furthermore, some practitioners lacked the professional curiosity to fully understand the person on probation’s personal circumstances, meaning that they did not always know who was at risk of harm. In some cases, inspectors found that the practitioner had underestimated the level of risk or reduced it too quickly following the person on probation’s release from custody.
This, along with other issues such as problems addressing homelessness, substance misuse and attitudes to offending, recall rates were high, with 30 per cent of the case sample recalled to custody within nine months of their release.
"Inspectors were particularly concerned about the poor quality of risk assessment and management for people on probation who were designated as medium risk of serious harm," said the report, adding that work relating to public protection was least likely to be judged effective for this group of people at all three case supervision stages - assessment, supervision and implementation/delivery.
"For those classified as medium risk, inspectors judged that work which focused on protecting the public was inadequate in a large majority of cases at all three stages. Assessments were not to the required standard in almost three-quarters of cases (74 per cent), planning was inadequate in two-thirds (66 per cent) and the delivery of supervision itself was sub-standard in three quarters of cases (71 per cent)," the report concluded.
The Chief Inspector, Justin Russell, said: "My main concern is public protection, which 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," he added.
HM Inspectorate of Probation Annual Report 2022/23 https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2023/09/2022-2023-HMIP-Probation-Annual-Report-v1.0.pdf