‘Chronic’ staff shortages ‘severely hampering’ Probation Service

The Chief Inspector of Probation, Justin Russell, says key areas of probation must be ‘addressed urgently’ following recent disappointing inspection ratings.

The unified Probation Service began in June 2021, affecting some 220,000 people on probation and 16,000 staff. HM Inspectorate of Probation has completed six inspections since this time, covering Wales and Kent, Surrey and Sussex East of England regions.

Mr Russell, speaking ahead of an appearance before the Justice Select Committee on Tuesday 17 May, said in a statement:

“In June last year I said that unification of the Probation Service within the public sector would not be a magic bullet for the deep underlying problems within the service. Our first six inspections since then – the latest published this morning – bear this out. We are seeing all the warning signs of a Probation Service in survival mode. Too many of the areas we have inspected this year – both in England and Wales – have shown weaknesses in nearly all aspects of their work. Chronic staff shortages, high workloads and the ongoing impacts of the pandemic are severely hampering their ability to effectively divert people on probation away from crime and, vitally, to properly protect the public from further risk of harm.”

Disappointing inspection ratings

“Of the six inspections we have published since unification, we have rated four probation services ‘Inadequate’ and two as ‘Requires improvement’. Two of the services – West Kent and Essex North – scored just one point out of a possible 27. We knew services were struggling, given the impact of Covid-19 and the demands of unification, but these results are worse than I feared. There is a long road ahead if they are to meet the standards that should be expected – and secure a future where they can thrive, not just survive.”

‘Chronic’ staff shortages

“Many services are experiencing exceptional staff shortages, with a half of positions in key grades in some areas unfilled. Staff tell us their workloads are unmanageable and high vacancies at manager level mean poor supervision too. And this is feeding through into the quality of supervision people on probation receive. Of the 350 cases we have inspected since unification, 60 per cent or more were unsatisfactory in terms of the quality of work undertaken to manage risks to the public.

“Recruitment is further hampered by substantial delays across regions in obtaining security clearance for newly appointed staff, often in excess of four months. But much of this is outside each local area’s control. I recommend the Probation Service and HMPPS review what can be done to resolve this as soon as possible.

“To their credit, many staff we spoke to during inspections were positive and ambitious to improve their service. Such commitment must be supported and developed. It would be disastrous if these dedicated probation officers were lost due to poor leadership, high caseloads and lack of regional and national support.”