Annual probation report: ‘There is hope for the future – as long as funding and good practice are not forgotten’

Ahead of substantial changes for the probation service, HM Inspectorate of Probation reflects on a challenging year for a system impacted by Covid-19, and the ongoing legacy of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms.

The Inspectorate today (03 December) published its annual report of probation service inspection key findings; highlighting familiar concerns around public protection and the effective management of risk of harm, accommodation provision and high caseloads for probation officers.

Approximately 224,000 people were under probation supervision in England and Wales by June this year. Currently, Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) supervise offenders considered to be low and medium risk, and the National Probation Service (NPS) supervises high-risk offenders. In June 2021, all offender management as well as delivery of unpaid work and accredited interventions will move to the public sector and be delivered by the National Probation Service.

HM Inspectorate of Probation was able to undertake 10 inspections of CRCs and one NPS division, from September 2019, before the inspection programme was suspended in March 2020 due to Covid-19.

For the ten services the Inspectorate was able to complete and give an overall score, it rated:

  • zero probation services as ‘Outstanding’
  • four probation services as ‘Good’ (three CRCs and one NPS)
  • six probation services as ‘Requires improvement’ (all CRCs)
  • zero probation services as ‘Inadequate’.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell: “While it has been encouraging to see some signs of improvement this year, with three probation services improving their overall rating to ‘good’, others remain a concern. In some areas we continued to find budgets being squeezed, staff under pressure and unacceptably high caseloads. This has inevitably resulted in poorer-quality supervision, with five CRC services rated as ‘Inadequate’ against all our offender supervision standards”.

“Risk of harm remains the weakest area of performance for both CRCs and NPS, and in some cases performance was comparatively poorer than last year. CRCs have invested in retraining staff on understanding the basics risk of harm, but we have not seen this translated into better supervision of their cases. Fewer than half of the CRC cases we inspected were satisfactory in their management of risk of harm – which poses a significant risk to the public.”

On a more positive note, the Inspectorate found that an additional £22m funding for enhanced Through the Gate services, to improve resettlement after release from prison, made a significant difference; eight out of ten CRCs inspected now rated as ‘outstanding’ on this area of activity.

Earlier this year, following the onset of Covid-19, a thematic inspection of the probation services’ response to the pandemic was undertaken. It found services had adapted quickly and effectively, but that more work is needed to tackle the long-term challenges Covid-19 will pose.

Mr Russell commended the services’ efforts: “Probation leaders recognised the gravity of the situation, and mobilised staff and resources to support a rapid response. Staff have worked tirelessly to keep services running and to support vulnerable individuals.”

The past year has seen the Inspectorate publish a raft of additional thematic inspection reports, aimed at identifying improvements for the benefit of service users and staff.

Mr Russell says it is about looking at the bigger picture: “We are going beyond evaluations and ratings. We have the expertise and resource to really drill-down into specific areas affecting probation services.

“Through this year’s thematic reports – not least our two-part review of the case of Joseph McCann and inspections of accommodation provision and of Serious Further Offence reviews – we have already made numerous, practical recommendations.”

The thematic inspection of accommodation – an issue also prevalent in this year’s individual inspections – highlighted that despite improvements, finding long-term, stable and appropriate housing remains a challenge.

Mr Russell added: “Homelessness or inappropriate accommodation was a factor for one in four of the cases we inspected.

“We know that detailed resettlement plans, which are well implemented, make a real difference to a person’s prospects on release. We have numerous examples of where good quality accommodation, and a supportive family network, is highly predictive of a person remaining crime free. Services must do all they can to ensure they strive to improve in this vital area of their work.”

This annual report will be the Inspectorate’s last before the changes introduced through Transforming Rehabilitation make way for a shift back to public sector control.

Mr Russell concluded: “It has been a bumpy road for Transforming Rehabilitation – and the move back to a unified service will not be a magic bullet. Further reforms must be backed by real extra resources. Vacancies for probation officers must be filled, and staff properly trained for their new responsibilities. The positive innovations that CRCs have brought must be preserved.

“Our role will be to continue to help probation services to improve, in whatever form they take going forward. There is hope for the future as long as funding and good practice are not forgotten.”


Notes to editor

  1. The report is available at on 03 December 2020 00.01.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspector of youth offending and probation services across England and Wales.
  3. The Inspectorate uses a four-point scale: ‘Outstanding’, ‘Good’, ‘Requires improvement’ and ‘Inadequate’. The Inspectorate rates specific aspects of each service and also gives an overall rating.
  4. For media enquiries, please contact Corporate Communications Manager Diane Bramall 07929 790 564 or (E-mail address)
  5. Access to HM Inspectorate of Probation’s thematic inspection reports can be found here:
  6. Nine inspection ratings by area:
  • Four probations services as ‘Good’ (three CRCs and one NPS):
  • Durham Tees Valley CRC
  • North West NPS
  • South Yorkshire CRC
  • Thames Valley CRC.
  • Six probation services as ‘Requires improvement’ (all CRCs):
  • Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Rutland
  • Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire
  • Merseyside
  • Northumbria
  • Staffordshire and West Midlands
  • West Yorkshire.

Due to the inspection being interrupted by Covid-19, the inspection of Hampshire and Isle of Wight CRC is incomplete, and an overall rating was not given.