THE probation service in Northumberland still requires improvement despite making steady progress over the past year.

This was the verdict of inspectors at HM Inspectorate of Probation who visited Northumbria Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) last September and again recorded an overall rating of ‘requires improvement’.

However, inspectors did state that the service, which works with more than 3,700 medium and low risk offenders, had made some positive changes in the 10 aspects of work it looked in to.

Justin Russell, the chief inspector of probation, said: “We returned to Northumbria CRC a little over a year after our last inspection. Although we have given the CRC the same rating again, we found that much had improved.

“The management team has made concerted efforts to address the concerns we raised with them. These efforts are starting to pay dividends, although there is still more to do.”

Inspectors found positive progress had been made through more detailed assessments of cases, more face-to-face meetings with people under supervision and a welcome end to telephone-only contact.

There was also better access to buildings and improvements to services for victims.

The CRC has received additional funding from central government and is now delivering good-quality work with people preparing to leave prison, the report stated.

Inspectors also found an ‘impressive’ range of services was in place to help individuals move away from further offending. This included support with issues such as housing, alcohol and substance misuse, and bespoke services for women and military veterans.

However, the inspectorate concluded more work needed to be done to improve the handling of risk of harm issues.

Inspectors rated all four aspects of case supervision as ‘requires improvement’.

Mr Russell said: “The public wants to see professional and assured work by probation services to keep people safe from harm.

“In some of the inspected cases, probation staff identified risks but did not analyse or explore issues in more depth.

“We would have liked to have seen a greater degree of professional curiosity.

“We also found too little consideration was given to victims.

“In cases where we expected to see home visits, only a third were completed.

“Probation officers are missing out on the opportunity to see people in their home environment.

“This information could help to keep others, such as partners and children, safer.

“We urge the CRC to drive further improvements to protect the public from harm.”

Last year, the Government announced that the National Probation Service would take over the management of all offenders from 2021 onwards.

While Northumbria CRC, currently managed by Sodexo Justice Services, would no longer operate after that date, and national inspectors were pleased to see it was continuing to invest in training probation officers and supporting staff.