Probation services in the spotlight

Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterEditorial
Probation services in
the spotlight
The Probation Service in England and Wales has been under a critical spotlight in
recent weeks following the publication of two reports by HM Inspectorate of
Probation into Serious Further Offences (SFOs) committed by people who were
under the supervision of probation services. SFOs are serious and violent and
sexual offences committed by people on probation. They are relatively rare, consti-
tuting fewer than 0.5% of the probation caseload (HMIP, 2023b). The occurrence of
an SFO leads to an automatic review of the supervision of the case prior to the
offence being committed. Reviews are ordinarily carried out internally by the
Probation Service and are not published, but in both the cases of Damien Bendall
and Jordan McSweeney the Secretary of State for Justice requested that the
Inspectorate carry out independent reviews. The publication of these reviews at
the start of the year has led to increased political and media scrutiny of probation.
Both independent SFO reviews deal with horrif‌ic cases and document shortcom-
ings in probation practice. In the case of Damien Bendall, this included failures in
risk assessment, inappropriate allocation of a complex case to untrained staff and
insuff‌icient attention towards child safeguarding and domestic abuse (HMIP,
2023a). The report into the management of Jordan McSweeneys case also identi-
f‌ies inadequate risk assessment, as well as delays in case allocation and failure to
action a timely recall to prison as shortcomings. In both cases, the backdrop of
staff shortages, compounded by staff sickness and attrition, as well as stretched
practitioners and their immediate managers, feature dominantly:
The impact of unmanageable workloads at both the probation practitioner and senior
probation off‌icer levels resulted in reduced oversight of new or struggling staff, frequent
role changes and sickness absence. This made consistency and continuity of practice
challenging. In this case, there was an increasing reliance on unqualif‌ied and
trainee staff to manage workloads; this contributed to emerging factors linked to risk
of harm not being recognised and escalated appropriately. (HMIP, 2023a: 3)
The practice def‌icits in this case are set against a backdrop of excessive workloads and
challenges in respect of staff‌ing vacancies(HMIP, 2023b: 3)
The performance of the Probation Service was a topic in Prime Ministers
Questions on 25 January 2023, when the opposition leader, Keir Starmer, noted
Editorial The Journal of Communit
and Criminal Justice
Probation Journal
2023, Vol. 70(1) 35
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/02645505231163766

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