March 30, 2023 10.00 am This story is over 15 months old

Northern Lincolnshire probation service requires improvement

The Grimsby office wasn’t fit for purpose

The probation service for North and North East Lincolnshire has been rated as “requires improvement” after an inspection in January.

However, inspectors felt the service was getting better and foundations were in place for the probation service to “become a credit to the local community”.

It was largely bucking national trends and meeting challenges of high vacancy rates, unmanageable workloads and reduced resources.

There was impressive leadership and high staff morale too. But it was not translating its high quality of practice into individual cases.

Court work was a particular area of concern in the inspection. Improvement was needed on assessing and managing the risks of people on probation to the wider public.

The Ministry of Justice has said it is taking immediate action to address issues raised, including extra staff training to improve risk assessments.

Facility issues were also raised, with some staff at probation offices having no wifi access and reliant on mobile hotspots or internet cables.

The probation office in Queen’s Street, Grimsby, was described as “not fit for purposes” and lacking the inviting environment in Scunthorpe. This office is permanently closing in the future.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “The rating of ‘Requires improvement’ belies a probation service on an upward trajectory. The foundations are in place for North and North East Lincolnshire Probation Delivery Unit [PDU] to become a credit to the local community.

They can see how to improve, and have put plans in place to do so, they just need time to develop this work.”

Across nine different elements of the service, it was rated good in two, staff and information and facilities. Five parts of the probation unit were marked as requires improvement, including leadership, and in courtwork and case supervision, implementation and delivery.

Two elements got the lowest possible rating of inadequate, court work and assessment in courtwork and case supervision. Barely more than a third of cases looked at had sufficient assessment of the risks to the wider public of the people in probation.

Mr Russell added: “It is a shame that such positive work by leaders, staff, and the input of people on probation themselves was not yet influencing the quality of casework. The service must improve areas of their work we found lacking, not least in relation to assessment – where only 34 per cent of cases inspected were effectively assessed to support the safety of others.

“But, North and North East Lincolnshire PDU has much to be proud of and we will no doubt see improvements in the months to come.”

“Despite high workloads, we found a committed and engaged staff group across all grades, who were all working towards the delivery of quality probation work,” the inspection report says. The report makes ten recommendations, five to be addressed by the North and North East Lincolnshire probation service.

The local recommendations were:

  1. Improve the quality of court reports to inform sentencing
  2. Improve the quality of work to assess, plan for, manage and review risk
    of harm
  3. Improve the delivery of unpaid work, ensuring orders start promptly with
    a varied offer of placements
  4. Ensure the delivery of training is prioritised to enhance the skills of the
    workforce and that there is a blended offer in place of in-person and online
    staff training
  5. Ensure diversity is prioritised in both strategic and operational practice

At a national level, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) were advised to address the need for staff recruitment and retention, and sort out reliable Wi-Fi access at all probation offices. A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We have taken immediate action to address the issues raised by inspectors including additional training for staff to improve risk assessments and more regular quality checks on management plans for offenders.

“We are also investing an extra £155 million a year into the Probation Service and recruiting record numbers of staff to deliver tougher supervision and keep the public safe.”

Inspectors looked at 32 cases from Summer 2022. There was insufficient, ineffective or absent management oversight in 69 per cent of cases. Another issue raised by the inspectors were cases being sentences without appropriate domestic abuse and safeguarding enquiries being received or requested.

Domestic abuse enquiries were not completed in six out of 28 relevant cases when required and for safeguarding, the non-completion rate was seven out of 29. Appropriate critical risk of harm factors were identified and analysed in only 15 out of 31 relevant cases.

Inspectors also found the vetting process for new staff lengthy, taking over 12 weeks and leading to some drop-outs during that time as people found employment elsewhere.

Two-thirds of people on probation surveyed said, however, they were overall happy with the support received. The most positively rated area for people on probation concerning their experience of supervision was their relationship with their probation practitioner, 69 per cent approving.

North and North East Lincolnshire probation service was formed in June 2021 after a merger of private and public probation providers.

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