01 September 2020 - Putting service users at the heart of our work

One of my first priorities as Chief Inspector has been to increase the role and voice of people under probation and YOT supervision in our inspections. September marks the first anniversary of the publication of our Service User Engagement Strategy, published shortly after I joined the Inspectorate, which sets out our commitment to involve service users in helping us develop our methodologies; to extend the feedback we get from service users in inspections; and to open up our recruitment campaigns to those who have been through the criminal justice system themselves.

We’ve made progress against each of these aims including some powerful testimony from 75 service users as part of our recent inspection of accommodation (or lack of it) for people leaving prison and a commitment to making evidence from service users an integral part of all of our thematic inspections. In our second round of CRC and NPS inspections we’ve also been interviewing service user councils and attempting to interview all those being supervised within the sample of individual cases that we inspect – though that has been more difficult.

Last month we advertised for a Service User Engagement Lead, someone with personal experience of being subject to probation and/or youth justice supervision, who will join our paid staff to help us get service users involved in inspections and research projects and make sure their voice is heard in all that we do. We’ve had a very positive response and lots of interest from potential applicants.

The successful candidate will join us in time to help develop our new inspection methodology for the ‘reunified’ probation service from 2021. Thanks to everyone who responded to our consultation on the future of adult inspections which finished at the end of August, or participated in one of the focus groups that my team have been holding over the summer. We’ll be publishing further, more detailed proposals next year. Before then, we’re planning to pilot our new, more local inspection approach, focused on individual Probation Delivery Units (PDUs), in Wales this Autumn. This will give us a chance to test our resourcing assumptions and try out new methodologies for gathering service user feedback and for measuring the progress that people under probation supervision make on key ‘intermediate outcomes’ like accommodation or employment.

In the meantime, the Inspectorate’s current inspection programme continues – including the first of our new style ‘small YOT’ inspections, which we completed in Peterborough, and Windsor and Maidenhead in August. Fieldwork has finished on the second part of the review commissioned by the Lord Chancellor following the case of Joseph McCann – an inspection of current culture and practice within the probation service relating to recall to prison – which we will publish in the Autumn. Planning meetings also took place with the six local areas which will be involved in our inspection of the progress being made by probation services on their recovery plans to return services to business as usual, with fieldwork due to run from the end of September to the end of November, including a detailed look at more than 200 cases.

And finally, although we have not published any inspection reports in August, I did want to put in a plug for an excellent piece of analysis published by our research team on the quality of pre-sentence reports to courts. Based on data from inspections of more than 800 individual court reports, this found a significant difference between the quality of on the day oral reports (65 per cent were satisfactory) and the more detailed (and now much rarer – only 3 per cent of the total) ‘standard delivery’ reports, which probation officers are given significantly longer – up to 15 days – to prepare (97 per cent of which we judged to be satisfactory). It was particularly concerning that our inspectors found that only 62 per cent of court reports for people judged to have the highest likelihood of re-offending were satisfactory.