Report spotlight on probation problem

A SERIOUSLY overworked probation service is leaving the public at risk from the very offenders it is supposed to be helping, a report claims. While the Cambridgeshire Probation Service has improved over the past year, it remains seriously overworked, u

A "SERIOUSLY overworked" probation service is leaving the public at risk from the very offenders it is supposed to be helping, a report claims.

While the Cambridgeshire Probation Service has improved over the past year, it remains "seriously overworked, undervalued and unhelpful".

The report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation also found some offenders were finding it hard to complete their community sentences because of probation service deficiencies.

After examining about 90 examples of the service's work, inspectors said protecting the public by minimising risk of harm should be an urgent priority.

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The report highlighted cases, involving priority and dangerous offenders, that were not being managed adequately in order to ensure "safe management".

Andrew Bridges, the chief inspector, said: "Most seriously, we found evidence of inadequate standards of practice in relation to assessing and managing risk of harm as part of the area's public protection responsibilities.

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"For this reason, we shall be carrying out a further focused offender management inspection looking at risk of harm work."

Staffing levels were seen as a problem. One comment to the inspectors suggested: "On the whole, probation staff seem to feel seriously overworked, undervalued and unhelpful as a result."

Only 55 per cent of offenders had complied with the requirements of their sentence, and 28 per cent had been cautioned or convicted of a further offence while under supervision.

In half of all cases there was no demonstrable benefit to the community as a result of the offender's sentence, and in 63 per cent of cases offenders showed no change in behaviour or attitudes.

Sean Jones, who lives in Stukeley and was given a community sentence for a driving offence, told The Hunts Post the problems left him struggling to finish his sentence.

"I moved from Oxford, where I was completing six hours a week community service, but in Cambridgeshire I am having difficulty completing any," he said.

Mr Jones was back in court after failing to attend a meeting with his probation officer.

"I got so frustrated about them turning me away because they had no work for me that I decided not to turn up. It is frustrating that I am now getting punished because these people cannot do their jobs properly - the service is a complete shambles."

Inspectors said some of the problems may have come about "at a time when the area was suffering from staffing problems brought about by budget constraints, sickness absence and rising workloads".

However, inspectors found that "there were very few negative comments from offenders about their offender managers, and a number of offenders spoke very highly of them".

The Cambridgeshire probation board was praised for taking a strong lead in planning and performance and for giving a high priority to meeting targets.

John McAngus, spokesman for Cambridgeshire Probation Service, said the report was something the service was taking seriously. "It will help us prioritise our work. Cambridgeshire is a small but very busy area and we carry out 1.4 per cent of the work of the Probation Service for England and Wales.

"But it is a telling point that we receive only one per cent of the national budget.

"I would not dispute that the employees are overworked, but I believe we work very hard and do the best job we can with the resources available.

"You have to put the report in context as it dealt with only about 90 cases. On average we deal with 3,000 cases a day and have 250 employees."

A re-inspection is scheduled for next January.

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