Are Probation Companies wrongly sending people to prison?

The Chief Inspector of Probation this week declared that the privatisation of Probation Services is “irredeemably flawed”.  Dame Glenys Stacey concluded in her final annual report that it would be “safer” if the supervision of offenders was back in public ownership.

Back in 2014, Probation Services in England and Wales were split between the National Probation Service for serious offenders and 14 private Community Rehabilitation Companies or CRCs for low and medium risk offenders.  By the end of September 2018, more than 150,000 offenders on probation – more than half the total across England and Wales – were being managed by these private CRCs.

Dame Glenys Stacey told BBC Radio 4 that “In practice these Companies have understandably focused on meeting contractual requirements and targets” but in reality, professional probation work was so much more than simply a series of transactions, “it is skilled, with a large amount of professional judgment”.  The Chief Inspector highlighted a number of concerns;

  • Supervising offenders by telephone only, usually after an initial meeting.
  • Housing needs are met less often (54% of private cases compared with 70% of public cases).
  • Inadequate protection for victims and their children when domestic abusers return to their community.
  • 22% of offenders released without knowing where they were going to sleep that night.
  • High workloads and performance targets leading to professional standards being compromised.

I read Dame Glenys Stacey’s report with interest, particularly given that I am often asked to represent people who consider that they have been failed by the Probation Service.  One such individual is Neil Rogers whose claim against Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company exposed the mismanagement of probation services in respect of both simple monitoring and professional judgment.

Back in 2014, Neil was living at 403 Tiene Road, Liverpool.

In June 2014, Neil was sentenced to a determinate sentence of imprisonment of three years.

In or around late October 2015, it was arranged via Shelter, the housing charity, that, upon release from Prison, Neil would live at hostel accommodation at 10 St Jerome’s Street, Liverpool (“the hostel”).

On the morning of 30 November 2015, Neil was released from Prison on licence to serve the remainder of his sentence in the community under the supervision of Merseyside CRC, with a licence expiry date in May 2017.

Upon release, Neil attended the hostel and moved in, purchased a mobile telephone and then attended the office of Merseyside CRC as required, where he met Shirley Temperance who had responsibility for his supervision at that time.

At this meeting, Neil provided the address for the hostel to Shirley, as well as his new mobile telephone number.  Additionally, Neil provided Shirley with a further two addresses at which he could be contacted via friends.

Shirley informed Neil that if there were occasions when he was not staying at the hostel overnight that he should inform Merseyside CRC as to where he would be staying instead.

Unbeknownst to Neil at that time, and despite him having provided the address for the hostel as his current address to Shirley, (and, indeed, Shirley subsequently calling out to see him at the hostel), 403 Tiene Road, Liverpool was incorrectly recorded as Neil’s current address in the Company’s records.

On a number of occasions thereafter, Neil contacted Merseyside CRC to confirm that he would be staying at an address other than the hostel overnight.

In or around May 2016, Neil left the hostel and moved in with one of his friends and informed Merseyside CRC that he had moved.

Throughout this time, Neil attended all Probation appointments required of him.

Subsequently, Neil was due to attend an appointment at the Company’s Liverpool office on 8 November 2016, with Mr Bodger, who had taken over responsibility for Neil’s supervision.

Neil was unable to attend the appointment on 8 November 2016 and contacted Merseyside CRC in advance of the appointment in order to arrange an alternative date on which to attend the office.

Neil’s appointment with Mr Bodger was accordingly rescheduled for 11 November 2016.

On 11 November 2016, Neil duly attended his appointment with Mr Bodger at the office.

At the conclusion of the appointment, Mr Bodger provided Neil with a letter confirming that his next appointment would be at the office on 10 January 2017.

By this stage, Neil had retained the same mobile telephone number since November 2015. The mobile telephone number was active throughout this time, and able to receive telephone calls and text messages.

On or around 15 December 2016, unbeknown to Neil, another Merseyside CRC employee, Mr Senior, decided to request revocation of Neil’s licence.

Mr Senior’s “Recall Report” stated, inter alia:

Mr Neil Rogers has been managed by Merseyside CRC since his release on 30th November 2015. 

The terms and conditions of licence are:

 5.

i Be of good behaviour and not undermine the purpose of the licence period.

ii Not commit further offences 

iii Keep in touch with the Supervising Officer

iv Receive visits from the supervising Officer in accordance with instructions give by the supervising Officer 

v Resident permenantly (sic) at an address approved by the Supervising Officer and obtain the prior permission of the Supervising Officer for any stay of one or more nights at a different address. 

Since release on 30th November 2015 and up to 6th September 2016, Mr Rogers attended all scheduled appointments and complied fully with his licence conditions. 

Given he was assessed as Low Risk of Harm and fully compliant, Mr Rogers was on 8 weekly (2 monthly) reporting. 

He failed to attend his next appointment scheduled for 8th November 2016 and the requisite warning letter was sent which also instructed him to attend a further appointment. 

Neil Rogers’ case manager has also attempted contact via his registered mobile phone but again to no avail. 

On 5th December 2016, the case manager visited the registered address at 403 Tiene Road. 

It was clear that this address was occupied as it could br (sic) seen that festive lights were on in the property. Despite several attempts no person(s) answered. 

A note was subsequently pushed through the letterbox instructing Neil Rogers to urgently make contact. 

On 14th December 2016, the case manager revisited the address and again it was clear that the house was occupied. No response was received so a hand delivered letter signed by the case manager was posted through the letter box (sic) instructing Mr Rogers to make urgent contact by 4 pm 15th December 2016. If he made no contact then recall proceedings would be initiated. No such contact has been made.

Further, the recall report stated:

All requisite formal warnings have been sent. A number of attempts to contact via his registered mobile phone number both by text and call have also met with no response.

Two personal visits by the case manager to the registered address and hand delivered letters posted directly have failed to establish any re-engagement or contact with Merseyside CRC.

The recall report gave Neil’s last recorded address as 403 Tiene Road.

The recall report stated:

Any Other Possible Addresses: N/A

The recall report recorded no mobile telephone number for Neil.

The recall report was endorsed by Mr Senior’s manager, who recorded:

Report and recommendation supported. It is concerning that Mr Rogers has fallen out of contact and this frustrates the aims of supervision. Therefore at this time there is no alternative but to request revocation of his current licence.

On the same day, in direct response to the recall report, the Secretary of State for Justice revoked Neil’s licence and recalled him to prison under section 254 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

The revocation stated:

You have been recalled to prison because the Secretary of State is satisfied that you have breached the following conditions of your licence:

5iii Keep in touch with the supervising officer in accordance with instructions given by the supervising officer

Shortly after midnight on 31 December 2016, Neil was returning home when he was approached by Police officers who took his details.  To his shock he was informed that, according to the Police National Computer, he was wanted for recall to prison due to a breach of his licence conditions and accordingly he was arrested, taken to a nearby Police Station and then on to prison.

He was incarcerated for the next 28 days.

A few days prior to the date on which Neil was due to be released, he was able to speak to Mr Bodger and ask for an explanation as to why he had been recalled to prison.

Mr Bodger informed Neil that he was no longer responsible for his supervision and that the responsibility for his supervision had transferred to Mr Senior.

On 27 January 2017, Neil was released from prison.  The same day, Neil attended the office of Merseyside CRC and met with Mr Senior, who informed him that concerns had been raised about Mr Bodger’s recordkeeping and that Mr Bodger was no longer employed by the Company.

In all the circumstances, it appeared that Mr Bodger had failed to keep accurate and/or up to date records regarding Neil’s contact details or his attendance at appointments and that by reason of those failings, Neil had wrongfully spent 28 days in custody.  Specifically, Mr Bodger had failed to record Neil’s attendance at the office on 11 November 2016, leading his colleague Mr Senior to believe that Neil had breached the terms of his licence by going “AWOL”.

Although Mr Bodger was the real ‘villain’ of the piece , and it was his dereliction of duty/incompetence which lead to Neil being sent back to Prison, the situation was compounded by the failure of the other Probation staff who had dealt with Neil to record his proper address and telephone number.  This caused Mr Senior to attempt to contact Neil at an address where he had not been living for several years.  When I reviewed Neil’s probation file from Merseyside CRC I was shocked at the amount of errors and inaccuracies in it – not just mere ‘clerical errors’ but the kind of blatant mistakes which could, and did, lead to a man losing his liberty.  In my opinion, it should have been obvious to Mr Senior that the file was riddled with errors and that an out of date address was being used.

Being sent back to Prison in these circumstances was a real hammer blow to Neil’s confidence, mental health and the fragile relationship he had started to re-establish with his estranged family. Thinking that there was no smoke without fire, Neil’s family did not believe that he had been recalled to Prison through no fault of his own, and this destroyed their trust in him.  This really was a terrible injustice, as in reality Neil had done everything he could to get his life back on the ‘straight and narrow’ since coming out of Prison in 2015, including getting a job and complying with all of his Probation requirements.

Whether privatised or not, the Probation Service rarely put their hands up and admit fault and so it was no surprise that when I intimated a claim on behalf of Neil, liability was denied by Merseyside CRC.  I issued Court proceedings and the Company maintained its denial, asserting that Neil had failed to keep them informed of his changes of address.  It was not even admitted by them that Neil had indeed attended the pivotal appointment with Mr Bodger on 11 November 2016 – but fortunately Neil had the letter given to him on that occasion by Mr Bodger, to prove that he had.  Even in light of that letter, Merseyside CRC continued to try to deny and frustrate the claim.  However, I am pleased to confirm that shortly before trial, Solicitors representing the Company backed down and we agreed a five figure settlement plus costs.

More importantly than the money, I trust that the vindication brought by this Court settlement has gone a long way towards helping Neil rebuild his relationship with his family, who will now hopefully see that he was telling the truth about his recall to Prison – as well as serving as a wake-up call to Merseyside CRC and other Probation companies to invest properly in staff training, management and supervision. Though, if what I have uncovered in this case is anything to go by, it seems future Chief Inspectors of Probation are going to have their work cut out to make the service fit for purpose.

(Names and addresses changed.)

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.