Ex-offenders could be encouraged to apply for probation officer positions as the government pledges to hire 1,000 more probation roles as part of a shake up of the system.
The move will see the workforce grow by 29% by 2021, according to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed a continued recruitment drive across the public sector, including police, teachers and NHS staff.Some 800 probation officers are already in training, and an extra 1,000 will be in training by January 1, the department said.
The programme of reform includes plans to use artificial intelligence (AI) to help probation officers, and hiring ex-offenders as part of efforts to build a more diverse workforce, according to a report.
The news comes as the Government prepares to bring all probation services – monitoring all offenders on licence and serving community sentences in England and Wales – back entirely under public control next year after inspectors said there were “fundamental flaws” in part-privatising the system.
Routine safety checks on offenders were not being carried out as officers buckled under overwhelming workloads, inspectors previously warned.
There have also been concerns raised that probation officers lack professional curiosity, which could see them miss warning signs that offenders are failing to reform.
Earlier this year, inspectors found serial rapist Joseph McCann carried out a series of sex attacks after being freed from prison following “major failings” by an “unstable” team of inexperienced probation staff.
A three-year plan promises better training and to “balance” the workloads of frontline staff in efforts to help cut reoffending rates.
New IT systems will be developed to give staff more time to focus on working directly with offenders, and better support schemes, like counselling, will be made available.
Officers will be provided with the “best tools to make informed decisions well”, including AI, and by 2022/23 this will “provide data which aids professional experience and judgment”, the Government report said.
A register will also be set up to keep tabs on staff qualifications and to ensure more “professional accountability”, like making sure employees are completing required training.
Efforts are also being made to make the workforce more diverse and hiring people with “broad and varied life experience”, according to the MoJ document.
It said new methods would be used to select the “most capable candidates regardless of their background”, and this would include ex-offenders “where appropriate”.
Earlier this year, an inspection report said bosses needed to review their approach to recruitment “to better address the underrepresentation of black, Asian, minority ethnic and male staff in the workplace”.
Women make up most of the workforce and it is thought the types of qualifications sought in previous job adverts may have been a factor in this.
Ian Lawrence, general secretary of the probation officers union Napo, said: “There are massive staff shortages across the country that has led to dangerously high caseloads, inexperienced staff being allocated work beyond the training and deterioration in professionalism.
“We welcome this news but it must be matched in its ambition with a full review of the training, a review of the level of pay our members receive and a significant redress of systemic failures that has seen a deterioration in the effectiveness of probation.”