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London probation staffing crisis

The London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee has today published a report into Probation Services in the capital.

The Committee joins the Probation Inspectorate in highlighting a number of concerns about probation in London, in particular the impact of chronic and worsening under-staffing.

The report is the result of an investigation undertaken by the Committee to see how the London Probation Service was performing one year after its creation in June 2021. The Committee held two evidence sessions to inform the investigation; and conducted a call for evidence to allow for others in London to share their views.

Findings

Like the National Audit Office, the Committee was impressed by the ability of His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to implement the major reform which involved the undoing of the Transforming Rehabilitation privatisation project and the return to a unified probation service integrated within the Civil Service. The short-time frame and the fact that the re-nationalisation of the service took place in the middle of the pandemic made that achievement particularly impressive.

However, the Committee highlights a number of very serious problems facing London Probation which are set out below:

Staffing

The London Probation Service is facing a crisis in staffing at all levels that threatens the future viability of the reunified service. In August 2022, the services had 755 vacancies and was spending huge amounts of funding on agency staff – the report quotes a figure of £367,628 for April 2022. The Committee says that challenges to recruitment and retention are stark and will require creative solutions to address. We know from the London Probation Action Plan (see our report here) that a number of probation staff have been temporarily moved to London Probation on “detached duty” and that a number of trainee probation officers have also been recruited.

It recommends that MOPAC should meet with the London Probation Service before the end of March 2023 to discuss how it can support a large-scale recruitment campaign for probation staff in London.

The report states: "This is an urgent crisis that requires a much bigger response, similar to resource that was fed into the Police Uplift Programme which was praised last year by the National Audit Office. MOPAC has significant convening powers in this area to bring together relevant services and representatives to help make the case for both a large-scale recruitment campaign and action to address retention challenges in London."

As of August 2022, the London Probation Service confirmed it had 755 vacancies right across the organisation.

Vacancy role

Current outstanding posts

Receptionists – Band 1 and 2

15

Case Administrators, including LCS Band 2 185

185

Band 3 Unpaid Work Supervisors, MAPPA Administrators and Senior Administration Officers

151

Band 3 Probation Service Officers

217

Band 4 Probation Officers

141

Senior Probation Officers

46

 

The report points out these vacancies "are coming at a cost." In April 2022 alone, the London Probation Service spent £367,628 on agency staff – more than double the agency staff spend of any other probation region.

The London Probation Service said that vacancies were attributable in part to inherited vacancies from the former CRC, and in part to an increase in the overall target staffing figure for the reunified service, following an internal review to determine the level of staff that was needed to fully deliver the target operating model. It also said that it was conducting a major recruitment drive, which had improved the recruitment pipeline of probation officers. 

Pressures on capacity mean probation staff are struggling to provide full and considered advice to courts, which limits magistrates’ abilities to make appropriate and effective sentencing decisions. The report quotes figures saying that probation staff in some areas of London were doing 50% more than their expected workload.

Minoritised communities

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people face significant and specific challenges on probation, and the Committee questioned whether the London Probation Service was doing enough to ensure equitable treatment and outcomes for people in this cohort. The Committee noted that a majority of probation staff are from minoritized communities.

Resettlement

The Committee highlighted that people are still leaving prison without access to basic amenities and services, with no clear signs that pre-release and resettlement support has improved under the reunified model. This is a major gap in the new delivery model that requires attention from both prisons and the London Probation Service.

Accommodation

The report says bluntly that the barriers to accessing safe and stable accommodation are insurmountable for some people on probation. It says that recent investment from the government in community accommodation will reduce the number of people leaving prison and entering homelessness; but urges the London Probation Service and London boroughs to do more to help people on probation find stable long-term accommodation.

Commissioning

The Committee shared the view held by many in the criminal justice voluntary sector that the commissioning model for the probation service is too complex and bureaucratic, which has excluded smaller and more specialist organisations from delivering services.

Lack of knowledge of community services

Although staffing levels are clearly the most important priority area to address. Perhaps the most disappointing finding of the report is that neither MOPAC, the London Probation Service leadership nor front-line probation staff know what community services are available and how these services can support statutory agencies to reduce reoffending. This means statutory agencies are not making the most of community specialist services that can have a real impact on reducing reoffending.

Conclusion

The report concludes with a series of thirteen recommendations directed at the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), London Probation Service, the Mayor and the prison service.

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