Corporate priorities and upcoming inspections

Last week we published our latest HM Inspectorate of Probation Corporate Plan (PDF, 1 MB) setting out our key objectives for the next three years. The COVID-19 pandemic has radically affected the way we undertake inspections and the balance between local inspection activity and national thematic work, but our underlying priorities remain the same:

  • Clear standards and robust inspection and rating to encourage high quality local services
  • Developing our inspection regime for the future and the major changes to the probation landscape from 2021
  • Identifying and disseminating effective practice to improve service delivery
  • Increasing the impact of HM Inspectorate of Probation

In spite of the challenges and interruptions of the past seven months, we’ve made good progress on all of these with over 50 inspection reports published in 2019-20; a new suite of effective practice products published and in development and consultations completed on our new probation inspection methodology and two new standards for our YOT inspections. Of the probation services we’ve been able to inspect a second time against our new standards, it was encouraging to see that at least some progress had been made on over three-quarters of the recommendations we made in our previous inspections, suggesting these are having a real impact on local delivery. And we’re looking forward to our new role in the quality assurance of Serious Further Offence reviews starting next April, with a set of draft standards for these now being developed.

Although COVID-19 has meant significant delays to some important national thematic inspections, our Corporate Plan confirms that these will now be going ahead in the next year. These include a joint inspection with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) on support for people under probation supervision with a drug abuse problem; a major joint inspection with all of the other criminal justice inspectorates and CQC of mental health service provision across the criminal justice system and our first look with HM Inspectorate of Prisons at the new Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) arrangements in prison and after release. We will also be undertaking a joint inspection with HM Inspectorate of Prisons of resettlement arrangements for girls leaving custody and are still hoping to complete a small number of outstanding inspections of adult probation service in Spring 2021.

Meanwhile, out in the field (or at least over our MS Teams software) our inspectors are now well into the fieldwork for two important national thematic inspections – of probation service delivery to black, Asian and minority ethnic service users and of the probation service’s road to recovery following the COVID-19 lockdown from March to June. Although there had been positive signs of steady progress towards recovery of key functions like unpaid work and accredited programme delivery by the end of October, it remains to be seen what last week’s news of another national lockdown will mean for the rate of recovery.

Alongside the immediate challenge of a new lockdown, regional probation directors will also have to keep their eyes on the future challenge of transitioning to the new unified probation structures at the end of June. I was pressed on the realism of this timetable during my appearance at the Justice Select Committee at the end of September and agreed that it was ambitious. With the clock ticking there remains a lot to get right in terms of people, buildings, data and IT systems, if everything is to work smoothly on day 1 of the new arrangements. We will be starting our own inspection of transition planning arrangements at the end of this month and aim to report our findings by Easter.

Our youth offending team has also been busy and have now completed a short programme of 14 ‘small YOT’ inspections which has been running since mid-August and has focused on the quality of case supervision undertaken before lockdown at the end of March. There has been lots of useful learning from this series of remote inspections and we expect the first of these reports to be published by the end of this month.