Service that looks after prison leavers in Northamptonshire is failing 'from start to finish'

The probation service that looks after thousands of convicted criminals in Northamptonshire is failing to help prison leavers reintegrate with society, a watchdog has found.

Thursday, 2nd May 2019, 5:34 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd May 2019, 5:38 pm
The probation service that looks after some 3,000 offenders in Northamptonshire has been labelled as 'requires improvement' by a government watchdog.

The latest inspection report by HM Inspectorate of Probation marks another damning indictment of the Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Community Rehabilitation Company (BeNCH) - set up in 2014 under a nationwide programme of privatisation.

A fortnight ago the organisation's safeguarding practices were called into question when a BBC study found more offenders under BeNCH's supervision had died in the space of five years than any other probation provider.

The report released today gives its prison leaver programme – known as ‘Through the Gate’ – the lowest possible rating of 'inadequate'.

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Chief inspector of probation Dame Glenys said: “The quality of Through the Gate work falls short of expectation in so many respects. It needs to improve, from start to finish.

“Individuals need support when they leave prison: a roof over their heads, help to write CVs and find employment, and specialist support for issues such as mental health or substance misuse. These things matter to individuals and can help or hinder their prospects of moving away from further offending.”

BeNCH CRC is one of six probation services managed by Sodexo, a multinational private company. The CRC supervises more than 7,000 low and medium-risk offenders across the four counties - around 3,000 in Northamptonshire.

Individuals are either in prison or have been released, or are serving community sentences.

Inspectors were impressed by the commitment of staff at all levels in BeNCH, but said the work done was 'not of the right standard'.

They gave the CRC an overall rating of ‘requires improvement’.

Dame Glenys said: “Unfortunately, our inspection found the management of cases is poor. In particular, domestic abuse and child safeguarding issues were not always investigated or recorded properly.

"Probation services should prioritise both rehabilitation and public safety, so BeNCH CRC needs to give this matter their urgent attention.”

The inspection also found that some meetings with individuals under probation supervision took place in open booths in the CRC’s offices, even though this had previously been raised as a concern.

Resettlement plans for those leaving prison did not always fully consider the individual’s personal circumstances or manage their 'potential risk of harm to other people'.

In more than half of inspected cases, there was poor communication between staff working in prison and in the community.

BeNCH CRC has started to put a programme in place to improve the standard of its work.

Dame Glenys added: “The CRC has put a foundation in place to raise the quality of its work and it has drawn up improvement plans to support this ambition. I hope this report and its recommendations help BeNCH CRC to further improve its services across the four counties.”