Agenda item

Probation Service


The Committee considered a covering report of the Corporate Director of Resources, in advance of a presentation on Probation Services in County Durham. (for copy see file of minutes).


Head of County Durham and Darlington Probation Services, Karen Blackburn gave a detailed presentation with an update of the Probation Service in the North East. Members were given a brief outline of the points raised in the last presentation made in April 2022. The Committee were informed that despite the constant organisational change, the vision and aims of the service were still the same and were working together with partnerships, trying to help people lead law abiding lives, protect the public whilst rehabilitating people, and rehabilitate offenders to make communities safer. It was noted that at a recent national meeting the new Chief Probation Officer had been introduced and had outlined the three priorities for the service:


·        Improved risk assessment and risk management of offenders

·        Ongoing prioritisation of recruitment to fill nation-wide vacancies

·        Support & development of Senior Probation Officers (SPOs)


There was also an additional focus on how to best support front line staff. Referencing the latest report from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) who had visited the northeast, there had been no good ratings for any Probation Delivery Unit in two years up to Autumn 2022. In addition to recent media reporting, this further highlighted failings in the service and had given it a renewed focus on what the service does. A positive for the region was a visit in Autumn 2022 of Gateshead and South Tyneside and Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, Redcar and Cleveland were rated Amber with improvement required and Gateshead and South Tyneside were rated Good with outstanding Court Service delivery.


The Head of County Durham and Darlington Probation Services informed the Committee that there were national, regional, and local action plans with national policies and procedures, policy frameworks, quality standards, and performance indicators that need to be implemented locally. Members were given a breakdown of the regional Probation service:


·        Regional Probation Director – regional responsible for delivery and commissioning Probation services

·        Head of Operations – responsible for Sentence Management, Courts, MAPPA, Victims

·        Head of Interventions – responsible for delivery of unpaid work and Accredited Programmes

·        Head of Community Integration – responsible for Commissioning and Partnerships, Contract Management, Service User Involvement

·        Head of Corporate Services – responsible for Staffing, Engagement and Communications, Information Assurance, IT Training and Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion.


The Head of County Durham and Darlington Probation Services informed the Committee that within County Durham there were three office locations: Durham, Peterlee, and Newton Aycliffe and explained that there were three community based hubs located in North Road Methodist Church, Durham, St Cuthbert’s Church, Peterlee and West Auckland Community Centre, which had recently opened in July 2022 to address a gap in supervision of South Durham.  There were a further two Ingeus hubs, one located in Durham, and one located in Darlington. Ingeus was a private company commissioned by the Probation Service to help deliver Community Rehabilitation. Members were informed that the aim of the hubs was the delivery of a one stop shop approach, where the public could report and have access to recovery services or Community Rehabilitation Services to help engage with the services they need and were managed by mixed integrated teams.


Members were informed there were still staffing challenges across the region with recruitment remaining a national priority, noting a reliance on trainees to qualify before being deployed to fill the vacancies, adding that a case load review for officers was ongoing and the region was within the national average of 30 for Probation Officer grades dealing with more serious cases and 40-50 for Probation Service Officer grades for those officers newly qualified dealing with less serious cases. The Committee was presented with the performance metrics for the probation service noting this was based on output not outcome and currently had: seven red areas, three amber, and 11 green, adding there was an ongoing focus on performance and quality with regional resources. The information to build the report on performance was taken from a national case management system, which relied upon the correct input of data with month on month changes in the grading system.


Members were informed of the types of crime related risks and needs assessed within the County Durham and Darlington Probation Services case load, with roughly 2,500 cases within custody and in the community. The top three factors related to pro-criminal factors that the probation service can impact focusing on behavioural work. The second factor of relationships, which was a more complicated matter required a multi-agency approach making it essential to link with specialist services. The third factor was emotional wellbeing with the source of the issue being alcohol, drugs, accommodation, or financial issues and required local specialist service. The Head of County Durham and Darlington Probation Services noted the above were all risks and needs that impacted on reduced reoffending, adding that although feedback had been sought on the reoffending rates in Durham, the latest figures had not been produced and advised that this could be clarified at a later date.


Members were informed that at a meeting of the Safe Durham Partnership Board, the Regional Head of Community Integration confirmed that further to the recent uncoupling of the County Durham & Darlington and Cleveland Local Criminal Justice Partnership, Reducing Reoffending will continue to be a sub-group, with refreshed priorities. It was noted that there were two new services commissioned for community rehabilitation services to be deployed locally, focusing on dependency and recovery provided by Ingeus, and a finance, benefit and debt service provided by St Giles Wise Group, with monthly monitoring of referrals within the region. It was noted that Restorative Justice was a new initiative with local probation funding given to the Police and Crime Commissioners Office’s Victim Care and Advisory Service to help capacity-build their existing services and develop an Offender Pathway. Further to this, the Regional outcomes and Innovation Fund was another funding stream available to County Durham and Darlington having secured funding for two local services delivering accommodation and community based provision for women in terms of the 700 Club and FREE Programme. 


In summary the Head of County Durham and Darlington Probation Services informed the Committee that the focus of the Probation Service was to:


·        Continue to support huge staff training as a national priority

·        Achieved fully trained and integrated mixed teams

·        Invested in HUB delivery and established a women-only reporting to promote the ethos of Desistance.

·        Established engaging people on probation forum

·        Established a multi-grade Reward and Recognition Panel to celebrate and promote staff achievements and success

·        Established a Staff Engagement and Wellbeing Committee

·        Established inclusion forum to promote equality, diversity and inclusion.

·        All probation staff work to national policy and procedures

·        Focused on quality and continuous improvement with staff development days focusing on risk assessment and management of offenders

·        Refreshed local integrated offender management arrangements with Police colleagues, developing a strategic and operational response to managing perpetrators of neighbourhood crime. The service has introduced specialist partner agencies to encourage a partnership approach to reducing reoffending.


Members were informed that statutory responsibilities for Safe Durham Partnership, Adult and Child Safeguarding and Youth Justice were being met. It was confirmed that probation had contributed to the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment in relation to the serious violence duty and the Strategic Drugs and Alcohol Partnership. noting continued work with Durham Police with information exchanges and review for implementing new national Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) Framework, implementing Safeguarding and Domestic Abuse Policy Frameworks, and contributions to the Induction Programmes for New Police Officers. She added that a review into the joined-up approach to managing Registered Sex Offenders in the community. The Committee was informed of an initiative in Darlington which identified vulnerable offenders who were at risk of exploitation.


Councillor L Fenwick asked if there were any figures available with regards to restorative justice.


The Head of County Durham and Darlington Probation Services advised the Committee that a new initiative was being developed focusing on prevention, noting everyone deserved a second chance and confirmed the figures could be provided to the committee.


Councillor D Oliver referred to the performance data and asked if more data was available rather than the key points provided in the presentation.


In response the Head of County Durham and Darlinton Probation Services  advised that often performance was not an exact science and that there were areas of particular concern, amber and red areas.  She continued that the service carried out case audits, safeguarding checks, and public protection checks and that there was a rag rating, however there was no context or background given with this information. She went on to advise that the performance data fluctuates month on month and that she would provide more performance information to the committee.


The Chair requested that performance information be circulated to the Committee outside of the meeting to give Members a clear insight.


The Head of Service responded that she would need to check and ensure that the performance information could be shared and that it was not restricted.


Councillor Nicholls referred to caseloads and asked if there was enough staff to manage the caseloads and if the service had any issues with retention of staff. He further asked if there was a high turn over of staff, noting the loss of knowledge that came with the loss of long term staff members.


The Head of County Durham and Darlington Probation Services advised that the points raised by Cllr Nicholls were all issues experienced within the service.  She confirmed that the service did not have enough officers and they currently had a lot of newly qualified probation officers who did not have experience.  However this was a national issue. There were people coming up to retirement and since becoming part of the Civil Service, some staff were leaving probation to take up other Civil Service roles. The service did work with pressures, and this was a significant problem in the South and South East however Durham and Darlington was as good as it could be for career progression.  The Head of County Durham and Darlington Probation Services advised that sickness numbers had reduced which had helped with caseloads and noted that the service was within the national  parameters of 35/45 for not high risk cases and 30 for high risk cases, adding an ongoing concern was vacancies in Durham and recruiting as people moved around the region.  She concluded by commenting that she could  provide retention figures to the members of the committee.


In reply to a second question from Councillor Nicholls regarding pay, the Head of County Durham and Darlington Probation Services advised that it was all relative and that pay was always an issue, but that the National CEO of the service had worked with unions and the treasury and negotiated a three year pay deal.


Councillor A Reed referred to the work and risk assessments with newly released offenders who had no fixed abode, no financial means, no mobile phone, and had a community order and questioned how these people managed in terms of attending appointments.


The Head of County Durham and Darlington Probation Services advised that this was a challenge and explained that the service had some resource to supply a basic phone to keep in contact and that national policies were in place to reimburse bus fares but stated that there were restrictions which applied in relation to reimbursements.


Councillor Reed asked about accommodation for newly released offenders who may have lost their tenancy whilst serving their sentence. 


The Head of County Durham and Darlington Probation Services advised that it depended upon the length of the sentence. She advised that work was done at the point of the offender going into custody, noting there was a three-week window at the end of each sentence where a handover takes place to prepare for release. The Probation Officer will work up to the day of release to acquire accommodation for the offender, with every effort made to keep people as local as possible with provisions for higher risk offenders. The Service worked closely with Durham County Council’s Strategic Housing Manager but the reality was, there was not enough housing stock in the area. 


Councillor Reed informed the Committee that MySpace was an organisation that helped low risk offenders.


The Chair thanked the Head of County Durham and Darlington Probation Services for her presentation but asked if more data could be provided.



(i)The Content of the report and presentation be noted.

(ii)That the additional performance information requested by members be provided to the committee.


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