The probation service in Lancashire is failing to tackle re-offending and keep the public safe, inspectors have found.
The Cumbria and Lancashire Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) - which is privately run and provides probation services in the area - has been ordered to improve after a damning report said offenders were not being properly supervised as standards have slipped since an inspection in 2017.
HM Inspectorate of Probation praised staff and said the CRC was "well led and has a clear strategy" - but warned of a "serious shortage of qualified staff to handle higher risk of harm
The organisation was given an overall rating of "requires improvement". Its leadership was rated "good" while five categories were given a "requires improvement" grading and a further four classed as "inadequate".
Two years ago, inspectors found the CRC to be "good" overall and said some practices were exemplary. However, today's report concluded the overall quality of probation supervision was not good enough.
Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said: “Cumbria and Lancashire CRC is not delivering effective probation supervision. Our inspection found poor practices that frequently failed to tackle offending or protect the public.
“We expect probation professionals to assess each case and tailor supervision to the individual. Here, we found staff failed to assess cases properly and missed opportunities to lay solid foundations for the work that follows.
"Key information, such as a clear explanation of how and why offending took place, was frequently missing. Worryingly, there is a lack of information from other agencies such as children’s social care.
“Greater attention should have been paid to protecting actual and potential victims. This was particularly concerning in cases that involved domestic abuse or safeguarding concerns for children and adults. Where a member of staff should have conducted a home visit to assess and manage potential risks, we found only a third had been completed.”
The CRC is one of six owned by Sodexo, a multinational private company. Inspectors noted some issues, such as ineffective management oversight, had been raised with the parent company following other inspections but had not been addressed in Cumbria and Lancashire.
Inspectors found the CRC struggled to manage complex cases. The national shortage of probation officers, including in the North West, means the CRC has insufficient numbers of qualified staff.
The report added that some of the CRC's premises were described by staff as “not fit for purpose”.
Dame Glenys added: “We found this CRC’s assessments for individuals sentenced to unpaid work were some of the least effective that we have seen so far. Staff only considered the risk of potential harm to the public in half of the inspected cases.
"We found instances where information about the use of weapons, threats to others and restraining orders were not recorded. This increases the risk of danger on placements, and diminishes the opportunities to protect the public.
“We have made seven recommendations to improve the quality of work at Cumbria and Lancashire CRC. There is much to do. Leaders need to make better efforts to deliver the improvements that must now follow.”
Trevor Shortt, director of community operations at Sodexo, said: "The overall rating of ‘requires improvement’ is in line with the majority of other CRCs across the country.
"HMIP's previous inspection in 2017 concluded that the Cumbria and Lancashire CRC was delivering some of the best work in the country. We have further invested in and developed the CRC since then and do not recognise the organisation described by the inspectorate in this report.
"Reducing re-offending and protecting the public remain our key priorities. We will be responding in full to the inspector on the recommendations made in due course.”