“A wake-up call”: Chief Inspector raises serious concerns about effectiveness of probation work with released prisoners

The second part of a wide-ranging inspection looking at Offender Management in Custody, by HM Inspectorate of Probation, has shown the stark – and often alarming – reality facing those released from prison.

The findings affirm the warnings made following the publication of the first report: Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) – pre-release (a joint inspection with HM Inspectorate of Prisons), in November 2022, which found ‘root-to-branch issues’ and concluded that the model ‘simply isn’t working’, calling for a fundamental review.

This HM Inspectorate of Probation follow-up report, Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) – post-release tracked the same prisoners, from part one, for up to nine months after release from prison. It looked at the support put in place (such as housing), services to prevent reoffending, the analysis of risk of serious harm, and the staffing and workload of prison and probation services implementing the OMiC model.

It found:

  • Only four out of every 10 prisoners in our case sample went into settled accommodation on release from custody.
  • Just eight per cent of those available for work went into employment.
  • Recall rates were high, with 30 per cent on average being returned to custody – four in 10 of these were within 28 days of being released.
  • In some probation regions, almost half were recalled to prison.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “I continue to have serious concerns about the effectiveness of the Offender Management in Custody model. Our inspection shows large numbers of released prisoners on licence, with no fixed address and little engagement in meaningful employment. Therefore, sadly, it should come as little surprise to see so many people being recalled back to prison. If those responsible for sentence management in, and after, custody need a wake-up call, this is it.

“We are seeing, too often, a breakdown in communication between prison and probation staff. This is, in part, down to there being too few staff and too many cases to manage. However, our evidence also suggests that the model itself is overly complex and hampers efforts to plan for release – it needs to work in practice, not just in theory, and at the moment it isn’t.”

Serious risk of harm

In a familiar story, reflective of our recent regional inspections and independent Serious Further Offence reviews, work to reduce the risk those released from prison pose to others fell well short of expectations:

  • Assessment, planning, and case reviewing to manage the risks of people on probation was of sufficient quality in only half of inspected cases
  • Domestic abuse checks were completed in just under half the cases where required.
  • Delays in receiving information from police and children’s services.
  • Some practitioners lacked the professional curiosity to understand the prison leaver’s personal circumstances and who they were in contact with.

Mr Russell added: “Arrangements for preparing prisoners for release and then for managing these cases in the community must be improved, and urgently.

“We have been assured, in the past year, that domestic abuse checks should and have been carried out where needed. But, even in this relatively small case sample, it is not happening. Prison and probation practitioners must have access to, and use, all the relevant information about a person who has been released from prison.”

Resettlement and other services

Most recalls to custody were caused by homelessness, a return to drug or alcohol misuse or a failure to ensure continuity of a case pre and post release – not by re-offending.

Where the prison leaver had substance misuse, linked to their offending, we found that less than a quarter of the cases we inspected had received sufficient help with this need. Only half of the cases inspected had received sufficient support with finance and benefits advice or with employment and training. Only 51 per cent of cases showed an improvement in their accommodation status in the first six months after release.

Relationships between practitioners and service providers varied. Referral processes were often not well understood, and probation and provider staff had different views on the level of intervention needed for people on probation, especially for women.

However, we did find that the provision of temporary accommodation (providing housing for up to 84 days after release) – though not available to all probation regions – was working well.

Staffing and workload

Staff shortages and high workloads do not support the delivery of a high-quality service.

Of the practitioners we interviewed, 55 per cent stated that their workload was not so, or not at all, manageable. Practitioners told us that high workloads have a significant impact on the quality of practice and leave them little time to plan and complete structured offence-focused work. Some were visibly stressed and reported working long hours to try to manage their workload.

There are significant difficulties with staff retention. Inspectors were told that experienced, newly-qualified and trainee probation officers leave for a variety of reasons, including finding the work too stressful, moving to better-paid work, taking retirement and being promoted.


Notes to editor

  1. The report is available on HM Inspectorate of Probation website on 14 March 2023.
  2. The organisation responsible for OMiC is HMPPS.
  3. At the time of writing, there is an 1,846 shortfall of full-time employed probation officers in post against the required staffing level of 6,160 (30 per cent).
  4. Fieldwork for this thematic inspection took place in October 2022.
  5. For media enquiries, please contact Head of Communications Diane Bramall media@hmiprobation.gov.uk (E-mail address)