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Staff shortages and 'unmanageable' workloads at region's probation service, inspectors say

PUBLISHED: 00:00 04 September 2019 | UPDATED: 07:51 04 September 2019

The probation service responsible for high-risk offenders in the East of England is dealing with significant staff shortages and unmanageable workloads. Photo: Steve Adams

The probation service responsible for high-risk offenders in the East of England is dealing with significant staff shortages and unmanageable workloads. Photo: Steve Adams

The probation service responsible for high-risk offenders in the East of England is dealing with "significant staff shortages" and "unmanageable" workloads, inspectors have said.

The National Probation Service (NPS) South East and Eastern Division, which supervises more than 16,000 individuals, was rated requires improvement after a routine inspection visit.

The HM Inspectorate of Probation looked at ten areas of the division, rating half good and half requires improvement, and made ten recommendations to improve the quality of the service.

Chief probation inspector Justin Russell said: "The South East and Eastern Division has some clear strengths especially around leadership, but also shows shortfalls in key areas, in particular high workloads and significant staff shortages."

He added: "Recruiting and retaining probation officers is a long-standing problem, and is exacerbated by the division's proximity to London."

The division had 102 vacancies at the time of inspection - a 16pc gap in expected staffing levels

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Officers were managing an average of more than 42 cases, higher than any other inspected probation service, with over half the staff spoken to saying their workload was unmanageable.

"The Ministry of Justice must make the recruitment of more probation officers a priority for this division," Mr Russell added.

Inspectors found leadership had fostered a supportive culture and staff morale was high, but more could be done to identify risks.

In 37pc of cases involving a change of circumstances, such as reports of illegal drug use or a change in living arrangements, a review which should have been triggered did not take place.

And 49pc of sentencing reports inspectors saw did not include full information about the risk of harm posed by the individual.

But commitment to offenders' health, assessment and planning of cases, and statutory work with victims, were all praised.

However, the quality of some premises fell below expectations, with inspectors citing "ongoing national problems" with Ministry of Justice (MoJ) contracts, fewer beds for those released from prison, and staff with personal alarms that do not work properly and in unheated offices.

"The MoJ must take more responsibility for ensuring safe and secure premises for staff and service users," Mr Russell added.

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