North East probation service delivering innovative work, despite heavy workloads

A probation service in the North East of England has been commended for its strong leadership and the innovative way it supports individuals to move away from further offending.

The North East Division of the National Probation Service (NPS) supervises almost 19,000 high-risk offenders across a large area that stretches from the Scottish border to The Wash in Lincolnshire.

HM Inspectorate of Probation conducted a routine inspection of the North East Division of the NPS and looked at 10 aspects of its work. The Inspectorate has given the Division an overall ‘Good’ rating, its second-highest mark.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “Leaders in the North East Division of the NPS have a clear vision and strategy to deliver a quality service, and this has been communicated well to staff and key stakeholders. However, the Division is not always able to achieve this ambition because of staff shortages and high workloads.”

There is a lack of qualified probation officers across England and Wales, and inspectors found significant shortages across this Division too. Restrictions to local recruitment have further hampered efforts to place newly qualified officers in the offices where they are most needed.

Mr Russell said: “Despite staff shortages and some heavy workloads, staff across the Division take the time to develop professional relationships with the individuals under their supervision. If individuals missed appointments or broke the rules of their orders, staff did excellent work to engage individuals again and get them back on track.”

Inspectors found the Division offers a comprehensive range of services to individuals to support their rehabilitation. Pioneering initiatives include ‘Project Beta’, a collaboration between HM Prison and Probation Service, Durham County Council and Darlington Borough Council. The project works with individuals who are leaving prisons across the North East to help ensure they enter stable accommodation on release to provide a foundation for beginning a life free from crime. Inspectors also noted a network of community hubs in Cleveland has supported women to move away from crime and reoffending.

The Division has also been proactive in addressing gaps in its services. Probation staff wanted to strengthen their work with sexual offenders so set up additional training and a library of resources. Staff can now work with this complex and challenging group of offenders with greater expertise and confidence.

Work with victims of serious crime was found to be of a good standard. The Division runs a statutory scheme that provides victims with updates on the perpetrator’s sentence and gives them an opportunity to contribute their views on release plans. Contact with victims was timely and supportive in nearly nine out of 10 inspected cases, and victims received clear communications throughout the course of the sentence. However, inspectors found a small number of victims were not contacted about the scheme; the Inspectorate is now encouraging the Division to make sure all eligible victims are approached.

Inspectors found the overall quality of work with individuals under supervision was generally good, but some aspects require improvement.

Mr Russell said: “The Division needs to take a more robust approach to risk management in order to keep potential and actual victims safe. In a third of inspected cases, the risk assessments did not contain enough information about who might be at risk of harm from the individual under supervision and the exact nature of that risk. For example, some assessments overlooked victims of previous offences.”

The Inspectorate has made seven recommendations to improve the quality of the Division’s work.

Mr Russell added: “There is much to commend in the innovative and proactive leadership of the North East division of the NPS. Taking the opportunity to learn from this inspection will enable the division to further improve its service delivery.”


Notes to editor

  1. The report is available at on 26 June 2019 00.01.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspector of youth offending and probation services across England and Wales.
  3. The National Probation Service (NPS) comprises seven divisions: six in England and one in Wales. The North East Division is the largest in terms of geographical area and also has the highest caseload. The Division supervised 18,566 individuals as at 30 September 2018.
  4. Fieldwork for this inspection took place in March 2019.
  5. For media enquiries, please contact Head of Communications Catherine Chan on 07889 405930 or (E-mail address)