Enforcement of community sentences by private companies 'poor'

By agency reporter
February 12, 2018

The enforcement by private probation companies of community-based court sentences has been assessed as poor in a report by HM Inspectorate of Probation.

Inspectors found that staff in Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) did not see offenders often enough while under supervision on two of the most commonly used non-custodial sentences – community orders and suspended sentence orders.

This lack of meaningful engagement led to poor decisions in managing breaches of the orders.

Though the proportion of community-sentences completed or ended early through good progress has been gradually rising, it was still the case that in 2016-17 a total of almost 30,000 court orders were terminated through failure to comply, further offences or other reasons.

Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, has previously raised concerns about remote and infrequent supervision of offenders by CRC staff, sometimes only by phone, which risks breaking the face-to-face relationships which are vital to successful probation work.

In the new report, Enforcement and Recall,  Dame Glenys said, “Once again, we found CRCs stretched beyond their capacity.

“Good enforcement relies on good quality probation supervision. CRCs focused on contract compliance, but not seeing people often enough, or not engaging meaningfully with them, are inevitably behind the curve on enforcement, as staff may not know when enforcement is called for, or when purposeful work to re-engage the individual would be better for them and for society.” Poor supervision, Dame Glenys added, “is more likely to lead to reoffending and, for some, another round of imprisonment.”

Inspectors also looked at cases where individuals were recalled to prison because of breaches of the conditions of their release into the community under license. It addressed concerns expressed by some commentators that offenders were recalled too readily, for minor breaches.

The report showed that a substantial number of people were recalled – with this group accounting for 6,554 out of the prison population of 85,513 in England and Wales on 31 March last year.

However, Dame Glenys said she hoped the report would allay concerns about inappropriate recall. “There have been increases in recall numbers, most recently following the extension of supervision in the community to those sentenced to less than 12 months.”

The inspection found almost all recall decisions by the NPS, the National Probation Service responsible for higher risk offenders, and CRCs were good decisions.

“Often, the level of disengagement or deterioration in the person’s behaviour were such that they could not be safely managed in the community. Recall was appropriate, even when the individual had committed a relatively minor further offence.” The reason for this in CRC cases, inspectors believe, was that recall procedures were generally clear and well understood, and people on licence, and subject to recall, were more likely to be supervised by higher-grade staff who are experienced at making the necessary judgements.

Commenting on the report, Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said, “This is the latest in a long line of critical inspection reports that show how private probation companies, which have already been propped up with extra taxpayers’ money, continue to fail the public.

“The Howard League is calling for contractors to be held to account. When a privatised railway franchise fails, trains are cancelled and passengers are inconvenienced. When a privatised probation service fails, people get hurt.

“It is time for the government to end this dangerous experiment and recreate a single, successful, probation service using the best from the system we used to have.”

* The full report is available here

* HM Inspectorate of Probation https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation/

* Howard League for Penal Reform https://howardleague.org/

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