New action plan for London Probation

A number of London boroughs have received emergency staffing in response to a highly critical report from HMPPS

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) have today published their action plan to address the major failings of the London Probation service as revealed in a number of Probation Inspectorate reports published in October and November of last year. We covered these reports in detail at the time.

Inspectors judged just one quarter of the cases they examined in a range of different Probation Delivery Units (PDUs) across London as being of a satisfactory standard in relation to their assessment of risk of serious harm.

Hammersmith, Fulham, Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster PDU, Lambeth PDU, Ealing and Hillingdon PDU and Lewisham and Bromley PDU were all rated as ‘Inadequate’ – the lowest rating possible – with inspections of Newham PDU and Barking, Dagenham and Havering PDU both rated as ‘Requires improvement’.

The Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell did not mince his words:

“These reports conclude a hugely disappointing period for our inspection programme, with all the London probation services we have inspected requiring immediate improvements. We knew that they were struggling to cope with the unification of probation services in 2021, and the lasting impact of Covid-19, but we have been shocked by the level of poor-quality services. The Probation Service must look at these six inspection reports and bring about swift and effective change in the capital.”

Mr Russell highlighted the key cause of this poor performance as long-standing under-staffing. In Lewisham and Bromley for instance, when the inspection started the area was missing:

  • 33% of its senior probation officers
  • 32% of its probation officers
  • 52% of its probation service officers.

The obvious consequence was that the remaining staff were consistently working well above their agreed workload. Although efforts are being made to recruit new staff, inspectors highlighted the fact that it is a daunting time to become a probation officer with newly qualified officers on 150% of their workload target from their first day at work. Mr Russell summarised the dismal situation:

“A vicious circle has been created, whereby high vacancy numbers – 500 vacant positions in London remained unfilled at the time of our inspections – and high sickness absences mean higher caseloads for those staff that remain. As a result, cases cannot be managed properly, increasing the chances of a person on probation reoffending. London expects better from its probation services and deserves to be protected from such risks”.

The action plan 

Today’s action plan – which runs to 31 pages – sets out the MoJ’s & HMPPS response to all the inspectorates’ recommendations. It was good to read that a number of boroughs have received emergency staffing. For example,  Hammersmith, Fulham, Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster PDU has received six probation officers and eight probation service officers of detached duty and has been allocated thirteen newly qualified officers.

The action plan notes that the primary inspectors’ concern that many people on probation had simply not been allocated a probation officer has now been addressed with all cases now allocated.

Other actions include:

  • All staff (Seniors, POs and PSOs) in PDUs rated as inadequate to attend quality development workshops designed to improve practice standards across the Assess, Change and Protect domains.
  • Initiatives to ensure that seniors and probation practitioners ensure that the sentence of the court is fulfilled and that appropriate referrals are made to the range of Commissioned Rehabilitative Services and offending behaviour interventions.
  • A programming of upskilling of senior probation officers in particular.
  • A survey of everyone on probation in London to identify key issues and concerns – and suggestions to improving performance.
  • A big focus on training on risk and safeguarding.