Overstretched private probation companies struggling with poor enforcement of community sentences, inspectors find

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.


  • ENDS –


Notes to editors


  1. The report is published on 6 February 2018 at https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation
  2. In June 2014, 35 self-governing probation trusts were replaced by a new public sector National Probation Service (NPS), under HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) owned by eight organisations, each different in constitution and outlook.
  3. There were some 268,0001 offenders on probation supervision at the end of March 2017, 45% of whom were subject to community orders (including suspended sentence orders). 26% were subject to post-release licence and 29% were in custody being prepared for release.
  4. Community sentences may include requirements to undertake rehabilitative activity such as drug treatment, or to comply with restrictions such as electronic monitoring. The same applies to a suspended sentence order – where the court imposes a custodial sentence but may choose to suspend it for up to two years.
  5. Almost all individuals sentenced to imprisonment are released on licence under probation supervision. This part of the sentence is served in the community. As with community sentences, this may also contain restrictions and/or requirements to participate in rehabilitative activity.
  6. The Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 extended supervision in the community to all adults sentenced to more than one day in prison. Formerly, only those sentenced to more than 12 months were supervised in this way. As a consequence, the number of individuals under supervision increased by 45,000 people each year, an approximate 23% increase.
  7. Supervision in the community is delivered initially through a period on licence, followed by what is known as post-sentence supervision, for the purposes of rehabilitation.
  8. Please contact John Steele, Chief Communications Officer, on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452, or at steele@justice.gov.uk (E-mail address), for more information.