Probation Staff Fail To Enforce Punishment

Offenders are escaping punishment for breaking their community penalties because probation staff are not following Home Office guidelines, according to a watchdog report. The prosecution of offenders for breaching their community punishments is being ended simply on the grounds that a file on the case is not ready.

Today’s inspection report on the enforcement of community penalties also found that some probation staff believed that if proceedings were not launched within ten days of an offender breaching an order, it was impossible to take any court action. “Some staff took no action against some offenders even though there was clear evidence of unacceptable absences,” the report found. Probation services were urged to make greater efforts to ensure that offenders complied with the terms of their community penalties.

The study found that Youth Offending Teams were poor at monitoring compliance with young offenders who missed appointments linked to their punishment. “Overall in only 65 per cent of cases were all absences properly recorded as either acceptable or unacceptable.” In some instances youth offending teams placed greater emphasis on allowing the community penalty to continue rather than enforcing the order as required by the courts.

Dealing with offenders who breach community penalties can take more than six times the period set out in Government targets. The report said that finalising sanctions against 4 per cent of adult offenders who breached their punishments took more than 200 working days — or 40 weeks — against a target of 35 working days. There were incentives for offenders to drag out the disciplinary process in a bid to avoid prosecution, the report added.

Warrants issued for offenders who failed to turn up at court often remained outstanding for significant periods and were only prioritised if the criminal was regarded as dangerous or a priority offender, the study by the Chief Inspectors of Probation and Courts Administration and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary found.

The report, based on inspections in Cleveland, West Midlands and Devon and Cornwall, said that ensuring that offenders comply with community punishments is one of the Prime Minister’s key priorities for the criminal justice system.

For adult cases in a sample analysed by inspectors, the average time to enforce action against someone who had breached a community penalty was 53 days. “Unfortunately, 15 per cent of cases took in excess of 100 working days, including 4 per cent that took over 200 working days,” the study said. For juveniles, the average time was 24 working days, giving an overall average across age groups of 43 days, against the 35-day target.

Andrew Bridges, chief inspector of probation, said: “Improving performance in the future is possible, but not through any specific sweeping innovations. As is often the case with criminal justice system processes, improvement will be achieved through patient incremental improvement in detailed processes year on year.” He added: “This path to improvement can and should be diligently followed by probation, youth offending teams, courts, police and others, working together.”