Daily Mail

Probation workers deployed to prisons over staffing crisis

- By David Barrett Home Affairs Editor

CIVIL servants at the probation service’s HQ are being redeployed to work in prisons because of a staffing crisis.

The department’s chief has written to senior managers saying they must hand over 5 per cent of their Whitehall workers from today.

Labour claimed the move, which would involve around 90 staff members, could see ‘more dangerous offenders left to

walk the streets unsupervis­ed’. It follows a series of reports by the probation watchdog that uncovered sub-standard work in high- profile cases, including the murder of law graduate Zara Aleena.

An email from Amy Rees, director general of HM Prisons and Probation Service, said: ‘Given the continued capacity issues across the prison estate and associated staffing pressures, I am writing to request your support in releasing HQ staff to the front line to help with the mitigating actions to address this ongoing issue.’

She added in the message, sent last week: ‘I am asking you all to immediatel­y identify 5 per cent of your staff to be released to assist the front line. Staff identified will be directed to temporaril­y move to priority front-line roles.

‘If these numbers do not meet the demand, this ask could increase to 10 per cent.’ On Monday this week, a follow-up email from Ian Barrow, executive director of the Ministry of Justice’s probation workforce programme, said some of those reallocate­d could work remotely but added: ‘There will be an expectatio­n for some staff to be physically deployed to prisons.’

Labour justice spokesman Steve Reed said: ‘The public will be rightly worried that with staff being diverted, more dangerous offenders could be left to walk the streets unsupervis­ed.

‘Our probation services are in chaos after 13 years of Conservati­ve mismanagem­ent, with [Justice Secretary] Dominic Raab lurching from one crisis to another. The service has been left with a shortage of probation staff facing unmanageab­le workloads and rockbottom morale.’

A probation source said of the redeployme­nt: ‘ It is absolutely shocking that we had no advance warning that this was coming.’

Officers with experience of working in jails are being prioritise­d for the scheme but it is not a requiremen­t, internal emails said.

Jails in England and Wales are full – with 84,137 inmates at the end of last week. Ministers have already launched an emergency scheme – Operation Safeguard – to allow hundreds of convicts to be kept in police station cells rather than prisons. Yesterday a report from the probation watchdog warned criminals were being freed without adequate oversight because probation teams had too few employees.

Justin Russell, chief inspector of probation, yesterday slammed the service for failing to protect the public from released criminals.

He highlighte­d ‘disappoint­ing’ findings warning that efforts to assess risks posed by criminals ‘fell well short of our expectatio­ns’.

The report noted the probation service was working with a 30 per cent staff shortfall, which meant officers were overloaded. This led to ‘ superficia­l’ assessment­s being made of offenders.

In January, Mr Russell published two damning reports that found crucial failings in how killers Jordan McSweeney and Damian Bendall were handled by probation.

Predator McSweeney, described as a ‘ticking timebomb’, was left free to kill aspiring lawyer Miss Aleena, 35.

Mr Russell said McSweeney should have been recalled to prison six days before the attack in east London and could have been back in his cell by the time of the murder if staff had followed procedures.

Another report scrutinise­d failures in the way Bendall was supervised before he murdered three children and his pregnant partner.

An HM Prison and Probation Service spokesman said: ‘We are temporaril­y moving around 90 qualified staff from desk-based roles to help frontline colleagues in prisons and probation.’

‘From one crisis to another’

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