Probation service for South East & East England struggling with staffing and workload

The probation service that manages high-risk offenders in the South East and East of England requires improvement, according to inspectors.

HM Inspectorate of Probation conducted a routine inspection of the National Probation Service (NPS) South East and Eastern Division, which supervises more than 16,000 individuals. Inspectors looked at 10 aspects of the division’s work, rating half of them as ‘Good’ and half as ‘Requires improvement’. It has given this Division an overall rating of ‘Requires improvement’.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “The South East and Eastern Division has some clear strengths especially around leadership, but also shows shortfalls in key areas, in particular high workloads and significant staff shortages.

“Recruiting and retaining probation officers is a long-standing problem, and is exacerbated by the division’s proximity to London. There were 102 vacancies for probation officers at the time of our inspection, which represents a 16 per cent gap in expected staffing levels.

“On average, probation officers were managing more than 42 cases – the highest of any NPS division we have inspected. More than half of the staff we interviewed said they felt their workload was unmanageable. Unsurprisingly, these pressures are having an adverse impact on the division’s ability to deliver a high-quality service.

“The Ministry of Justice must make the recruitment of more probation officers a priority for this division.”

Inspectors found the leadership team had fostered a supportive culture and had taken steps to improve staff wellbeing and resilience. Despite high workloads, staff morale is high.

Inspectors concluded more could be done to identify and manage risks. In one case they looked at, for example, a person under probation supervision breached a restraining order. Despite a history of domestic abuse, staff did not conduct checks with the police and children’s social services. The individual went on to breach a further restraining order against the same victim.

Changes to circumstances – such as reports of illegal drug use or a change in living arrangements – should trigger a review but this did not happen in more than a third (37 per cent) of inspected cases. In the reviews that did take place, only half (54 per cent) focussed sufficiently on keeping people safe.

The division’s work to inform sentencing decisions was found to be insufficient in key areas. Staff relied too much on the individual’s explanation of their offence, rather than corroborating facts with other sources. Nearly half (49 per cent) of inspected reports did not include full information about the potential risk of harm posed by the individual. Factors that were not assessed included mental health, alcohol use and the safeguarding of children.

Inspectors found the division performed well in other areas. They commended the division’s commitment to offenders’ health and cited an innovative approach to working with individuals who have complex mental health issues. The assessment and planning of cases, and statutory work with victims, were all rated ‘Good’.

However, as with other NPS divisions, the quality of some premises fell below expectations.

Mr Russell said: “The Ministry of Justice is responsible for managing NPS facilities and we have found ongoing national problems with this contract. In this division, delays in fixing repairs have resulted in fewer beds for individuals who have been released from prison. Staff have been left with personal alarms that do not work properly and in offices without heating systems for long periods of time.

“Managers are trying hard to log and escalate repairs, but the Ministry of Justice must take more responsibility for ensuring safe and secure premises for staff and service users.”

The Inspectorate has made 10 recommendations with the aim of improving the quality of probation services in the region.



Notes to editor

  1. The report is available at on 04 September 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 South East and Eastern Division operates in: Northamptonshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Surrey.
  4. The division supervised 16,514 individuals as of December 2018.
  5. Fieldwork for this inspection took place in May and June 2019.
  6. For media enquiries, please contact Head of Communications Catherine Chan on 07889 405930 or (E-mail address)