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Report of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation Follow Up Inspection of the Isle of Man Probation Service 29 June 2006

The Department of Home Affairs announced on Thursday the results of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation Follow up Inspection of the Isle of Man Probation Service.

The Minister for Home Affairs, his Chief Executive and Chief Probation Officer recently met with the Deputy Chief Inspector of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation and the lead Inspector involved in the visit, to assess the Island’s Service.

The report was commissioned to ensure that where concerns were identified in the quality of some of the practices in the 2005 report that improvements were being made towards bringing these areas in line with the many strengths including good performance against Manx Standards and strong links with the courts and partnership organisations also identified in 2005.

The Minister expressed his desire to see the Service considerably elevate its position in relation to United Kingdom National Average levels as expressed in the report and agreed that the last 12 months had seen a solid commencement to meeting these desires and supported the efforts of the Staff in improving the levels of and quality of service provided.

The report made it clear that there had been considerable activity focused on tackling the recommendations in the 2005 report by the Probation staff and in this regard there had been progress demonstrated against all of the areas of concern, including the general scores relating to the practice sections of the inspection.

However, it was recognised, due in part to staffing difficulties, that overall progress had been slower than might have been expected. Other positive areas included the development of offending behaviour programmes with the introduction of the domestic abuse programme and a short alcohol education programme for disqualified drivers.

Weaknesses remained in the operation of the Community Service programme, but these were being addressed through the implementation of internal financial audit report recommendations and in the Department’s business plan. Offender literacy and basic skills needs were now being addressed through an informal partnership with the local Further Education College. There was continuing effective communication with sentencers, though it was recognised that information on the quality and effectiveness of offender supervision could be improved.

It was pleasing to see the majority of cases now contained a risk of harm assessment, though improvements were still needed in the quality and consistency of those assessments. Increased focus on the timeliness and quality of risk of harm reviews was also required. Progress on improving the quality of supervision planning and reviews had been slower than anticipated and further work was needed so that supervision plans reflected the assessment of risk of harm and likelihood of re-offending. There had been improvements in ensuring that offenders understood the requirements of their order or licence. Despite an impressive electronic case record system, the quality and sufficiency of case recording had not increased and more attention needed to be given to this.

It was disappointing to see in relation to quality of interventions that levels of contact with offenders had not improved and enforcement practice required considerably more attention. Appropriate interventions reflecting the risk of harm and likelihood of re-offending were being carried out in the majority of cases, and this was happening particularly well in the high risk of harm cases. There was also an increased focus on work directed at community reintegration of the offender and there were some examples of good practice with individual offenders, undertaken in partnership with other agencies. However, apart from in the high risk of harm cases, there had been no improvement in challenging offenders to accept responsibility for their offending and progress had been limited in ensuring victim awareness was addressed as a routine part of supervision.

Good attention was now being paid to offender literacy and basic skills needs and there was increased evidence of offenders’ diverse needs being taken into account in their supervision. Considerable improvement was shown in the quality and degree of pre-release work in prison licence cases by the case manager. The management of risk of harm work needed to be improved and further attention needed to be paid to ensure risk of harm to the community was kept to a minimum.

Most offenders were complying with the requirements of their order or licence, particularly those posing a higher risk of harm. These offenders also showed more evidence of positive change in their attitudes to offending. More attention was now being paid to the longer term community reintegration of offenders and there was improvement in their community ties and social circumstances. In most instances, resources allocated to cases were consistent with the risk of harm and likelihood of re-offending. There had been increased attention to the collection of outcome data and further developments were underway. However, better use could be made of existing management information in order to increase effectiveness.

Chief Probation Officer Mr David Sellick said that he was disappointed as were his staff in the overall conclusions of the report as much good work had been undertaken and that both he and his staff acknowledged that there was still much work to do to ensure that we outshine our UK counterparts by the next inspection. It is definitely a case of back to basics, said Mr Sellick,

“We need to establish a good baseline in terms of quality and consistency and then look for further development”.

It was recognised by the HMI that for a small Service we had many irons in the fire, said Mr Sellick, and that in discussion the HMI had commented that the Service may well be trying to overreach itself and should now focus on establishing basic high quality assessment, record keeping and supervision planning before moving forward to embrace other new ideas.

The Chief Executive commented on the improvements featuring good practice examples within the report which had not been in the original report and agreed that the Service was moving in the right direction and that the efforts of the staff should be recognised.

The Minister said that for such a small Service it had kept abreast of developments elsewhere and exemplified this by saying that in recent times the Service embraced many new initiatives in response to Tynwald legislation, or proactively, to address a variety of offender groups such as sex offenders and domestic violence perpetrators, a feature which was praised in the report, as well as the introduction of electronic monitoring.

“As is always the case Inspections by their very nature are critical and I am glad that progress has been made against the recommendations of the first report”

Mr Shimmin said.

“We all share the disappointment that progress has not been more far reaching and quicker but I am pleased to see that the efforts of the staff are beginning to provide dividends and the expectation is that the service will be reaching standards where it is currently falling short during the next year. All aspects of the Report will be closely monitored to ensure the improvements are maintained and that weaknesses are addressed.”

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