Probation Service needs to learn the lessons of Serious Further Offence reviews

HM Inspectorate of Probation has published its first annual report looking at the quality of Serious Further Offence (SFO) reviews undertaken by the Probation Service after people on probation commit a serious violent or sexual offence while under supervision. These reviews, conducted by the Probation Service, aim to find out why these offences happen and reduce the chances of them happening again.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “Each year, around 500 serious sexual or violent offences are committed by people who are under probation supervision. Each incident will have a devastating impact on all those involved, which is why it is essential that the Probation Service learns from these awful incidents to improve the way it manages risk of harm and to support a reduction in reoffending.”

Since 2021, at the request of the Secretary of State for Justice, HM Inspectorate of Probation has been inspecting the quality of 20 per cent of the SFO reviews undertaken by the Probation Service into the circumstances surrounding some of the gravest crimes committed by people under probation supervision.

This inaugural publication reports on the quality of 64 SFO reviews quality assured by the Inspectorate between April 2021 and April 2022, across England and Wales. We have rated 69 per cent of the reviews as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’, but almost one-third (31 per cent) were rated ‘Requires improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’.

Mr Russell continued: “Too many Serious Further Offence reviews are falling below par, with services not sufficiently identifying the necessary learning. This is because they are focused on ‘what’ happened rather than the ‘why’. As a result, they are not analysing poor practice robustly, which limits the learning for probation practitioners about the factors underlying these often very serious crimes.

“I have also some concerns about the grade and independence of those undertaking this work. Senior Probation Officers tasked with undertaking these reviews told us they would like to explore management and policy issues at a more senior level, but do not feel empowered to do so. They expressed concern that their ability to scrutinise and potentially criticise the practice of their own senior leaders could be limited by their own role, grade and links to the region concerned. Greater independence within the SFO review process and a more senior grade of reviewer might bring greater and more robust challenge.

“On a more positive note, almost three-quarters of the reviews we looked at were rated ‘Good’ in terms of their accessibility to victims or their families. We are seeing a genuine effort to be open, transparent and sensitive to the needs of victims needs and their families. This is significant improvement and is to be commended”.

From the SFO reviews we have quality assured our inspectors have identified the following key lessons for frontline staff:

  • practitioners are underestimating the nature and level of risk of serious harm posed. In 64 per cent of the cases we reviewed, the practitioner had assessed the original risk of serious harm as only low or medium
  • diversity is not always fully considered and there is insufficient liaison between prison and probation staff
  • there is sometimes a lack of professional curiosity, with practitioners not using all available resources to support the management of the risks posed by people on probation in the community
  • there is a recurring failure (also evident in our local inspections) to undertake adequate enquiries with the police and local councils about domestic abuse or child and adult safeguarding risks.
  • high workloads and poor management oversight are having a clear impact on the quality of work to protect the public.


Notes to editor

  1. Further information about SFO reviews can be found on pages 3 and 4 of this report.
  2. This annual report analysed 64 Serious Further Offence (SFO) reviews which took place between April 2021 and April 2022.
  3. Of the 64 cases we reviewed, 23 people had committed murder and a further 14 had committed rape while under probation supervision.
  4. Probation Delivery Units (PDUs) replaced Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and the National Probation Service (NPS), which merged into a unified Probation Service in June 2021.
  5. The report is available at on 29 September 2022 00.01.
  6. HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspector of youth offending and probation services across England and Wales.
  7. The Inspectorate uses a four-point scale: ‘Outstanding’, ‘Good’, ‘Requires improvement’ and ‘Inadequate’.
  8. For media enquiries, please contact (E-mail address)