11 January 2023 - Green shoots of hope for probation services?

It was good to finish 2022 with some more positive news from our local probation inspections. Our inspection of two Probation Delivery Units (PDUs) in the Probation Service – North East region found “green shoots of hope”, with stable workforces, reasonable workloads, a positive and engaged staff culture and strong, visible and accessible leadership of the region itself. This was reflected in our ratings, with South Tyneside and Gateshead PDU achieving a ‘Good’ overall rating – the first of the PDUs we have inspected since the unification of the Probation Service in the summer of 2021 to have achieved this rating. Congratulations to them.

As my blogs in 2022 reflected, this comes after a very challenging year for the service, with 10 of the 17 PDU reports we published in 2022 showing a rating of ‘Inadequate’. We have found huge vacancy levels and therefore caseloads in some parts of the country – particularly London and the South East – and real concerns about the quality of risk assessment and management that we’ve seen in the cases we’ve assessed (satisfactory in less than half of the cases inspected). Covid-19 restrictions on delivery were only lifted in March 2022, and the long-term impact of the pandemic can still be seen as the Probation Service struggles to return delivery to pre-pandemic levels. Significant numbers of PDUs were still operating as ‘red’ or ‘amber’ sites, without full business as usual delivery, as we ended the year and large unpaid work backlogs are an ongoing concern.

Our youth justice inspection ratings have been very different – with no service rated as ‘Inadequate’ and a majority of the 31 YOS inspection reports we published in 2022 rated as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’. Particular congratulations to Hammersmith and Fulham YJS (read the report on our website) and to York YJS (read the report on our website) which were both rated as ‘Outstanding’. Across the country, in the youth justice services we inspect, we’re seeing manageable caseloads; low vacancy rates; strong multi-agency partnerships and an excellent range of specialist and embedded services – all of which are making a clear difference to the individual cases we’re inspecting. Across the great majority of our quality standards, two-thirds or more of the YOS cases we inspect we rate as satisfactory, with particularly high scores for work to assess and respond to the underlying needs that may be driving a child’s offending. Much of this may well be down to smaller caseloads for practitioners, but I think there’s much that probation could also learn from the more localised and flexible model of youth offending service delivery – including the way that key statutory partners are integrated into the management structure of each YOS.

As well as our local inspections, we published a number of research bulletins and academic insight papers and our effective practice guides continue to go from strength to strength, with eight new additions in, 2022, to this rapidly expanding library which showcases some of the excellent practice we continue to find around the country, despite challenging working environments. My thanks also to all of the local probation, youth justice services and prisons that helped with the fieldwork for four excellent thematic reports we published in 2022 on electronic monitoring; MAPPA; education and training in youth justice services and Offender Management in Custody (OMiC).
This year promises to be equally productive, as we implement our new regional ratings system for probation in the second half of 2023 and start to develop our thinking about the next cycle of youth justice inspections from 2024 – both of which will be a priority for me in my final year as Chief Inspector. In the meantime, happy new year to everyone working in probation and youth justice from everyone in HM Inspectorate of Probation.

Let’s hope for more ‘green shoots’ in 2023.