Basic probation safety checks ‘still not being carried out despite failings’

Basic safety checks are still not being carried out by probation officers, according to their watchdog.

Justin Russell, the Chief Inspector of Probation, feared lessons were still not being learnt from previous failings in the sector.

He told reporters probation officers were still failing to carry out “basic domestic violence and child safeguarding checks” on offenders they were supervising.

Mr Russell said there were “reoccurring problems” with the probation service with “issues around competence” and it was a “mixed picture” as to whether department bosses were taking on recommendations to make improvements.

His comments came as he was questioned about the failings in the case of Joseph McCann (pictured).

The convicted burglar had been freed after a probation error, two months before he embarked on a cocaine and vodka-fuelled rampage in which he carried out a string of sex attacks on 11 women and children.

The National Probation Service (NPS) supervises around 105,000 high-risk offenders in total.

Union bosses claimed staff were working in “chaotic conditions” due to the size of their workloads in the South East and Eastern division of the NPS which supervised McCann.

Asked whether – in light of the inspectorate’s findings of high workloads and staff shortages – if the failings in the McCann case were inevitable, Mr Russell said: “If you are supervising 105,000 high-risk people then these things happen.

“It was a particularly horrible case which left a very large number of traumatised victims behind.

“It acts as an example of all the issues we have been talking about in terms of our inspection findings.

“It’s important that probation gets risk management right and actions and checked.”

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) – which is responsible for probation – carried out an internal review after McCann’s review.

Of four probation staff in the South East and Eastern division who were directly involved in McCann’s case, one was demoted.

An earlier investigation resulted in one member of staff involved with McCann being dismissed and an agency worker’s contract being terminated for “poor performance”, although it was not understood to be directly related to the case.

Known as a serious further offences review, the detailed findings are not routinely published.

Asked whether the report should be made public, Mr Russell said: “I think that’s something the department should consider” but he agreed there was a “need for discussion around transparency”, adding: “I think there’s a strong argument for saying that there is a public interest in that once they have thought about how they manage that with the victims.”

The MoJ said discussions were ongoing as to whether the review into the McCann case would be released and victims were being consulted.

Calls for more men to be hired as probation officers

More men should be hired as probation officers, according to inspectors.

Amid concerns over staff shortages and hundreds of outstanding vacancies for roles, the Inspectorate of Probation said the workforce needed to be more diverse.

Bosses needed to review their approach to recruitment “to better address the under representation of black, Asian, minority ethnic and male staff in the workplace”, the watchdog’s latest report said.

Women predominantly make up the workforce and it is thought the types of qualifications sought in previous job adverts may have been a factor in this.

Typically applicants were required to have grades in education or degrees like criminology which are thought to attract mostly female students.

Now a wider range of skills are being sought in applications, inspectors said.

At the end of September the National Probation Service (NPS) – which deals with high-risk offenders – needed 3,926 probation officers in post but only had 3,273.

At that time there were 653 vacancies for these jobs including 115 in London and 161 in the South East.

Efforts have been made to recruit more than 800 trainees – but they are inexperienced, Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said.

He also warned there will be a growing demand for probation work in light of the Government’s pledge to recruit 20,000 more police officers.

Mr Russell urged bosses to fill vacancies quickly and to “ensure that the probation workforce better reflects the population as a whole”.

Inspectors also felt staff should be hired and trained for a “specific role” rather than through “general recruitment”, particularly for those assigned to work victims to keep them informed and help them prepare for an offenders’ release from prison.

The report said generic job hiring “can be problematic, given that individuals may have joined the organisation to work with offenders, and may not wish to, or have the necessary skills to, work with victims”.

Sally Lester, head of NPS inspection, said: “Working with victims is a very different job. Having direct contact with victims is very different from what is expected from the job. People should be specifically trained for that role.”

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