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Serious offenders slipping through probation system net

Napo calls for government to review recruitment and service’s structure

PROBATION officers are not carrying out basic checks when there are risks of offenders engaging in violence and abuse after being released, according to a watchdog’s report published today.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said there were “reoccurring problems” with the probation service that include “issues around competence,” huge workloads and understaffing.

Mr Russell said a lack of “professional curiosity” in failing to dig deeper in questioning offenders could be down to inexperience.

His comments related to the case of Joseph McCann, originally jailed for burglary, who carried out drink-and-drug-fuelled sex attacks on 11 women and children after being freed due to a probation error.

But the officers’ union says that staff were working in “chaotic conditions” in the probation service’s south-east & eastern division, which was meant to be supervising Mr McCann.

Every division inspected was rated as still requiring improvement on staffing since the last inspection.

High rates of staff sickness were reported, hundreds of outstanding job vacancies, and difficulties in recruiting male staff and people from black and ethnic-minority backgrounds to probation officer roles.

Senior probation officers told inspectors that they were often overwhelmed by their work and did not have time to supervise staff properly.

Some 60 per cent of staff had excessive workloads, inspectors found. Probation officers had an average of 39 cases but could have up to 60 at any one time, while victim-liaison officers had an average of 215 cases.

Probation officers’ union Napo told the Star that it welcomed the report as it “vindicates all that the union has been saying since the NPS [National Probation Service] was formed” in its campaign for a publicly owned probation service.

General secretary Ian Lawrence said: “Our members have been struggling for years no due to excessive workloads and poor working conditions.

“The impact of this is a direct risk to the public which we are seeing manifesting itself in an increase in serious further offences. Despite our members best efforts they cannot work to the best of their ability.

“Napo calls on the government to urgently review the structure of the NPS, bring back local autonomy to allow divisions to meet local needs and to review their recruitment strategy.

“Ultimately pay is a massive factor for recruiting in London and the south-east – but also how staff are treated to ensure better retention of staff.”

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