Management of sexual offenders misses the mark and must improve

Significant improvements are needed to ensure sexual offenders are managed effectively in prison and in the community, according to a new report out today.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons conducted a joint inspection into the management and supervision of men convicted of sexual offences in England and Wales.

Inspectors found:

  • much of the work delivered with sexual offenders in custody is poor
  • the National Probation Service is not doing any work to address the sexual offending behaviour of four in 10 sexual offenders on probation
  • in one in three inspected cases, not enough was done to protect children
  • assessments of offenders were not completed to a good standard in a third of inspected cases, and were sometimes seen by staff as “a box to tick”.

Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said: “Sexual offence convictions are increasingly common, yet despite evidence that we can reduce the risk of these individuals reoffending, little if any meaningful work is being done in prisons. With many probation staff unsure what to do for the best with sexual offenders under probation supervision, the public are not sufficiently protected. This makes no sense.

“There needs to be a renewed national effort to make sure all reasonable steps are taken to protect the public. Prison and probation staff need better training and support, and the opportunity to work with offenders in ways known to reduce the risk of reoffending.”

At a national level, inspectors found a disconnect between how Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) described its work with sexual offenders and what was happening in practice. Inspectors found HMPPS had an incomplete picture of this group of offenders, and had not analysed their collective risks and needs. Inspectors have urged HMPPS to address this gap, as the missing information makes it difficult to manage sexual offenders effectively.

The inspection looked at the work of the National Probation Service (NPS), which supervises 106,819 people. Sexual offenders make up around one in five NPS cases. Inspectors found probation staff did not always have the knowledge, skills and support to work with sexual offenders. Inspectors found some staff using outdated tools and techniques in their work, and concluded electronic training and guidance was “largely ineffective”.

Some NPS staff have reported struggling with stress and anxiety, and have found it difficult to switch off after challenging conversations or viewing distressing content. Our national survey of NPS staff showed 60 per cent of employees were ‘not so’ or ‘not at all’ satisfied with the emotional and professional support they receive at work.

On a more positive note, inspectors praised NPS Victim Liaison Officers and the work they did with victims of sexual offences. These officers often went above and beyond in their work to ensure the needs of victims and children were taken into account.

The report found work in prison with men convicted of sexual offending was “poor” overall, and staff were not trained and supported sufficiently well to deliver a service that protects the public and reduces the risk of harm.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said: “We found too many cases in prisons where little, if anything, was done to reduce the likelihood of reoffending. This is serving neither the public interest nor that of those prisoners who need help to change their behaviour before being released back into the community.”

Inspectors found difficulties with the movement of sexual offenders in custody and as they prepared for release. Moving sexual offenders around the prison estate hindered the ability of some men to access support to address their offending behaviour. Moving men from prison to the community was also managed badly; planning for release was nowhere near good enough, and “too little, too late”. Inspectors found communication between NPS staff in the community and prison offender management teams was not effective in many cases, resulting in poor risk management and release plans. This was compounded by a lack of suitable accommodation for sexual offenders.

Accredited programmes were under-used in prison and in the community – even though they can help to reduce the likelihood of reoffending. Inspectors found some men on probation had practical barriers to attending programmes, for example because of work commitments or long distances to travel; others were unable to access suitable provision, for example men with learning disabilities. In some cases, individuals did not have a court order to complete an accredited programme but they could have benefitted from the work; probation officers are not using their professional judgment to put men forward. The situation was no better in prison. Inspectors visited five prisons and found two were not running accredited courses at all, despite holding a large number of prisoners convicted of these crimes.

Dame Glenys said: “Our report sets out a series of 15 recommendations for HM Prison and Probation Service, the National Probation Service, and HM Prison Service. We want to see urgent and much-needed progress in the management and supervision of sexual offenders – this work should be given priority in my view.”



Notes to editors

  • The report ‘Management and supervision of men convicted of sexual offences’ is available at at 00.01 on 24 January 2019.
  • This is a joint inspection:
    – HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspector of youth offending and probation services in England and Wales.
    – HM Inspectorate of Prisons for England and Wales is the independent inspectorate which reports on conditions for and treatment of those in prison, young offender institutions, secure training centres, immigration detention facilities, police and court custody suites, customs custody facilities and military detention.
  • For brevity, it is acceptable to refer to ‘HM Inspectorates of Probation and Prisons’. It is not acceptable to refer to one organisation only.
  • Fieldwork took place between July and September 2018 and involved visits to five NPS divisions, visits to five prisons, inspection of a sample of 173 cases, and extensive interviews and focus groups. Full methodology details are available in Annex 2 of the report.
  • Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey is available for TV interviews at Millbank on Wednesday 23 January and for press/radio interviews on Wednesday 23 and Thursday 24 January. Pre-recorded voice files and photos of Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey are also available on request. Please send all media requests and enquiries to Catherine Chan, Head of Communications at HMI Probation, on 07889 405930 or (E-mail address)
  • Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke is available for media interviews on Wednesday 23 January. Please send all media enquiries to John Steele, Chief Communications Officer at HMI Prisons, on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452 or (E-mail address)