The probation service that manages high-risk offenders in Northamptonshire is struggling, according to inspectors.
The National Probation Service (NPS) South East and Eastern Division has been branded as "requires improvement" by a government watchdog.
HM Inspectorate of Probation published its findings into the service's performance today (September 4), which says it is having difficulties coping with high workloads and "significant" staff shortages.
It is now calling on the Ministry of Justice to make recruiting more officers and take the stress off the service a "top priority".
The probation service supervises more than 16,000 offenders who have been released from prison on licence across South East and East England, including Northamptonshire.
Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “The Ministry of Justice must make the recruitment of more probation officers a priority for this division.
"On average, probation officers were managing more than 42 cases – the highest of any NPS division we have inspected.
"More than half of the staff we interviewed said they felt their workload was unmanageable. Unsurprisingly, these pressures are having an adverse impact on the division’s ability to deliver a high-quality service."
It comes after the same watchdog scolded the service in Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire in May for failing to help thousands of convicted criminals reintegrate with society.
Inspectors said they also found a 16 per cent gap in staffing levels for what the service needed, amounting to some 102 vacancies at the time.
Out of 10 areas of the probation services' work they inspected, the watchdog rated half of them good and the other half as "requires improvement".
However, inspectors found staff morale was high despite high workloads and praised the service's leadership for supporting officers.
But they also found concerns about how the service reviewed the actions of its offenders.
Changes to circumstances – such as reports of illegal drug use or a change in living arrangements – should trigger a review but this did not happen in more than a third (37 per cent) of inspected cases. In the reviews that did take place, only half (54 per cent) focussed sufficiently on keeping people safe.
The division’s work to inform sentencing decisions was found to be insufficient in key areas. Staff relied too much on the individual’s explanation of their offence, rather than corroborating facts with other sources. Nearly half (49 per cent) of inspected reports did not include full information about the potential risk of harm posed by the individual. Factors that were not assessed included mental health, alcohol use and the safeguarding of children.
Inspectors found the division performed well in other areas. They commended the division’s commitment to offenders’ health and cited an innovative approach to working with individuals who have complex mental health issues. The assessment and planning of cases, and statutory work with victims, were all rated ‘Good’.
The Inspectorate has made 10 recommendations with the aim of improving the quality of probation services in the region.
The National Probation Service South East and Eastern Division operates in: Northamptonshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Surrey.