Probation watchdog warns over Ministry of Justice rehabilitation shake-up

Interim chief inspector of probation Paul Wilson tells CSW he is optimistic about the 'Transforming Rehabilitation' scheme – but warns over “more for less” culture

By Sarah Aston

14 Oct 2015

The probation watchdog has expressed concern over the possible effect of the Ministry of Justice’s reform programme on staff workloads.

Speaking exclusively to CSW, interim chief inspector of probation Paul Wilson said he was worried that a focus on “more for less” and “costs and profits” could lead to serious problems for probation staff handling cases in the future.

Introduced in April 2015, the MoJ's Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) has seen the privatisation of almost 70% of probation services, splitting offender management between privately-owned Community Rehabilitation Centres (CRCs) and the National Probation Service (NPS).

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The chief inspector’s annual report – published in August – found “significant operational and information sharing concerns across the boundaries of the National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies”, but went on to conclude that “transitional” problems could be resolved with “time and continuing goodwill”.

Speaking to CSW, Wilson said he was optimistic about the future success of the programme, but warned about the possible impact of inexperienced staff and management of resources.

Drawing a comparison between Transforming Rehabilitation and the 2009 Sonnex case – in which Daniel Sonnex murdered two French students while on probation – Wilson said there was a risk that the consequences of high workloads and insufficient managerial oversight could be repeated.

He said: “Sonnex was a serious offender and at the time the murders happened, he was supervised by a young inexperienced probation officer with a ridiculous workload of about 120 cases, and she was line managed by an inexperienced temporary senior probation officer, and the senior manager in London at that time was very remote from the fieldwork.

“If I can make a link between the Sonnex case and Transforming Rehabilitation – it’s right that from a neutral position I remain optimistic about what may be achieved under TR, but I do have a worry.”

He added: “We are in times of austerity and this government wants more for less, and the new CRCs have a bottom line in relation to costs and profit. In that context, I am worried about the prospects for staff and the future staffing levels and I fear the Sonnex scenario being recreated with inexperienced staff, possibly less trained and qualified than they were before, with larger caseloads, managed and supervised by more remote managers.”

While Wilson plans to step down in February 2016 – by which time a permanent chief inspector is expected to be in post – the interim probation watchdog told CSW that he had already started a process of raising his concerns with ministers.

Read the full interview with Wilson here

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