Chief inspector: significant performance gap between public and private probation providers

Inspectors have found a significant performance gap between the public-sector National Probation Service (NPS) and private-sector Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs).

More than a quarter of a million people are under probation supervision. They are managed by 28 probation services: 21 CRCs supervise low and medium risk of harm offenders and the NPS’s seven divisions manage high risk of harm offenders.

HM Inspectorate of Probation has inspected all 28 probation services over the past 12 months. Inspectors have conducted hundreds of site visits and thousands of interviews, and have analysed nearly 6,000 cases.

In total, the Inspectorate rated:

  • zero probation services as ‘Outstanding’
  • six probation services as ‘Good’ (five NPS divisions and one CRC)
  • 21 probation services as ‘Requires improvement’ (19 CRCs and two NPS divisions)
  • one probation service as ‘Inadequate’ (one CRC).

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “This is the first time we have inspected every probation service in England and Wales in a single year and given overall performance ratings.

“The flaws in the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation model for funding and organising probation services have been well documented. There has been significant under-investment in services for supervising low and medium-risk offenders, and this report lays bare the legacy of that shortfall. As a result of these failures, CRCs receive less than they need to adequately supervise what is often a highly chaotic and difficult to manage group of offenders.

“We found a clear difference in performance between the NPS and CRCs, with five of the seven NPS divisions rated ‘Good’ but only one of the 21 CRCs falling into this category.”

Average caseloads for probation officers in CRCs were far higher than for the NPS, with over two-thirds of probation staff managing more than 50 cases, compared to just one in 20 staff in NPS divisions.

Mr Russell said: “Across all inspections, less than half of responsible officers felt they had reasonable workloads. The sheer volume of work can make it difficult for probation staff to maintain high standards and can impair judgment.

“High workloads can also contribute to stress and sickness levels. In some organisations, this has led to additional pressures on the remaining workforce as they cover for absent colleagues.”

Inspectors found a particularly large gap between the NPS and CRCs in the quality of work to protect the public from serious harm. Overall scores on this aspect of performance were up to 25 percentage points lower for CRCs than for the NPS.

Mr Russell said: “High workloads may be impacting on the way that risk to the public is being managed. Probation services are not doing enough to identify and manage the potential risks that some individuals pose to others. Poor practice is particularly stark in the private sector. Probation staff in CRCs did not assess risks sufficiently in nearly half (45 per cent) of inspected cases. Public safety was not considered properly when delivering probation activity in six out of 10 cases (59 per cent).

“Where CRCs should have conducted a home visit, just a third (32 per cent) were recorded.

We also found frequent lapses in information-sharing with other agencies such as the police and children’s social services. Probation staff are missing out on opportunities to spot and mitigate risks, including to keep children and potential victims safe.”

Mr Russell confirmed inspectors had raised the alarm when they felt there were immediate risks to the public. In these rare instances, probation services took prompt action to resolve issues.

Mr Russell said: “The government is currently considering the best way to reform probation services. I hope they will re-establish the twin aims of probation on an equal footing – services must protect the public as well as reduce reoffending.”

In relation to the NPS, which supervises the highest risk cases, the Inspectorate rated five divisions as ‘Good’ and two divisions ‘Require improvement’. Overall, inspectors found NPS divisions were particularly strong at assessing and planning cases, commissioning services to meet individuals’ needs, and working with agencies to manage the risks of serious harm and to support service users to stop offending.

But NPS divisions typically scored lower marks in two areas: staffing and facilities. There is a national shortage of qualified probation officers and many divisions have found it difficult to recruit and retain staff. Consequently, every division was rated ‘Requires improvement’ on staffing. The quality of premises also fell below expectations, and did not always provide a safe and secure environment for staff and service users. The Ministry of Justice holds a national contract to maintain facilities, but inspectors found some divisions’ sites required hundreds of repairs.

Mr Russell said: “Effective probation services play a vital role in helping individuals to turn away from crime and towards more positive and productive futures. Probation staff are often dealing with people who have complex and multiple needs, and the work that they do matters not just to individuals, but also to their families, communities and society at large.

“Over the past year, we have shone a light on the quality of work in each probation service. We will be inspecting all 28 organisations again to see if and how they have addressed our recommendations.”


Notes to editor

  1. 2018-2019 inspections of probation services: summary report is available at on 10 October 2019 00.01.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspector of youth offending and probation services across England and Wales.
  3. There are 255,264 people under probation supervision across England and Wales (source: offender management statistics bulletin, January to March 2019).
  4. Probation services are usually delivered by probation officers (who have a higher education professional qualification and manage more complex cases) and probation services officers (who train on the job and complete a qualification). For brevity, we have used the term ‘probation staff’ in this press release to cover staff at both grades.
  5. For media enquiries, please contact Head of Communications Catherine Chan on 07889 405930 or (E-mail address)