Concerns over probation’s work with BAME service users

Work with offenders on an important new report from probation inspectors

Last week Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation published an important report: Race equality in probation: the experiences of black, Asian and minority ethnic probation service users and staff. The headline finding which garnered most headlines was the Inspectors’ conclusion that the probation service’s focus on racial equality has declined since the controversial Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) reforms were introduced in 2014. TR introduced a split, part-privatised probation service, but the reforms failed and the service is due to be re-nationalised on 26 June this year.

Context

More than 222,000 people are supervised by probation services across England and Wales. As in the rest of the criminal justice system, people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are over-represented with about a fifth of people on probation from BAME backgrounds (compared to 14% of the general population).

The inspectorate’s report was based on interviews with National Probation Service (NPS) and Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) staff and managers in five different probation areas and analysis 100 cases and 51 pre-sentence reports. Additionally, the report was informed by a team of former service users (recruited and supervised and supported by the consultancy EP:IC) who gathered views from over 80 people being supervised by the service. Probation inspectors also received 100 responses to a survey of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff in these five fieldwork areas.

Key findings

The Inspectorate’s findings were concerning. In the 100 cases of ethnic minority service users, there was little evidence that probation staff had spoken with service users about their ethnicity, culture, religion, and experiences of discrimination, or planned interventions that were responsive to these diversity factors. This was confirmed by service users.

The inspectors found that assessment and planning to address offending-related factors were good, but that engagement with ethnic minority service users required improvement and is worse than inspectors found on average in their adult probation inspections. Too few service users were engaged with services to support their rehabilitation and, while half of the service users described a positive relationship with their responsible officers, others were less positive.

Inspectors said they were disappointed not to find more good practice. Since the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, the Inspectorate found the number of services for black, Asian and minority ethnic service users has decreased, and there are fewer resources devoted to work on equality and diversity. Probation staff have fewer links with organisations in the community that can support individuals’ move away from crime, and organisations that can provide culturally appropriate services are rarely commissioned. Work is required to understand and apply the most effective approaches to respond to the needs of ethnic minority service users. There are few programmes to address racially motivated offending, and ethnic minority staff are frequently expected to take on these cases without support or consultation.

The experiences of BAME staff

Many ethnic minority staff inspectors surveyed or spoke with say they lack confidence in the ability or willingness of managers across the NPS and CRCs to respond appropriately to their concerns. Inspectors attributed this lack of confidence to repeated experiences over many years of raising issues and having them downplayed, ignored or dismissed. Inspectors said that there is a critical and urgent need to review complaint and grievance procedures and to train managers to deal confidentially and sensitively with issues of discrimination as they arise.

The report notes that HMPPS has recently launched its Race Action Programme and has made additional funding available to support the development of organisations providing specific support to black, Asian and minority ethnic service users.

In launching the report Chief Inspector Justin Russell said that this work “needs to be taken forward at pace and real and rapid progress made to further race equality in probation”. He also committed to re-inspect this work again within two years and to introduce a more robust set of standards around this issue for our HMI Probation’s local inspections.