Watchdog warns over ‘remote supervision’ of criminals

Technology must not be used as a substitute for face-to-face meetings with criminals living in the community, a watchdog has warned.

Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation, said contact by phone only does not offer “anywhere near the level of supervision that we want to see”.

She previously revealed that thousands of offenders were being managed by a brief phone call once every six weeks.

Another form of “remote supervision” allows convicts to “check in” at an office using electronic kiosks.

HM Inspectorate of Probation will on Wednesday publish the findings of an assessment of the effectiveness of new technology in managing offenders.

Dame Glenys said the research shows there is a lack of “high-quality” evidence to prove remote supervision helps to rehabilitate individuals or improve public protection.

She said: “We have long expressed concerns about telephone-only contact.

“Despite strong evidence showing the critical role of the relationship between the individual and the probation officer, it is not protected within the current model of probation service delivery.”

Dame Glenys flagged up remote supervision in 2017, prompting fresh scrutiny of the Government’s controversial part privatisation of the system for managing offenders in England and Wales.

Known as Transforming Rehabilitation, the scheme saw the creation of the National Probation Service to deal with high-risk cases, while remaining work was assigned to 21 community rehabilitation companies (CRCs).

But the shake-up has been dogged by criticism, and last year the Ministry of Justice announced plans to end the CRC contracts early.

Dame Glenys said that CRCs have been able to implement operating models that allow telephone-only contact with up to 40% of individuals under supervision.

Under a new contractual requirement introduced in October, CRCs have to offer face-to-face meetings at least once a month.

“While welcome, this change does not guarantee an effective relationship or ensure that risks to the public are adequately considered,” Dame Glenys said.

She emphasised that she was not opposed to the use of technology in probation delivery.

“However, it should complement face-to-face meetings, rather than be a substitute for it,” Dame Glenys said.

“For example, a probation officer might find it helpful to have a catch-up telephone call with an individual between meetings or to check how a course is going.

“Contact solely by telephone or other forms of technology does not offer anywhere near the level of supervision that we want to see.”

The research, conducted by academics at Manchester Metropolitan University, looked at more than 22,000 research articles published since 2007.

It found there was a dearth of evidence with regard to the effectiveness of remote supervision and new technologies in managing probation service users.

A thematic analysis looked at reviews of remotely-delivered health interventions.

The report said: “The studies did not find that these technologies produced better outcomes, and there was insufficient evidence to judge whether enhancing human involvement was more or less effective at delivering outcomes than replacing human involvement.”

There were 258,157 offenders on probation in England and Wales as of the end of September.

The Ministry of Justice said telephone contact is now only allowed when used in addition to face-to-face supervision.

An MoJ spokesman said: “Innovative technology such as GPS tagging can protect the public and make offenders less likely to breach licence conditions or reoffend.

“However, technology should only ever be one part of how an offender is supervised and will never replace regular face-to-face support from a trained probation officer.

“That’s why we recently introduced a requirement to all probation contracts which says offenders must have regular face-to-face supervision.”

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