Probation service 'struggling' with workload, inspectors find
The probation service in the South East and East of England has been struggling with "high workloads and staff shortages", inspectors have said.
The regional division has been given an overall rating of "requires improvement" following routine checks.
HM Inspectorate of Probation said the pressures the service faced presented a "major risk to service delivery".
The National Probation Service (NPS) said: "There are clearly areas we need to address, including staffing levels."
The NPS is responsible for supervising high-risk offenders released into the community.
The South East & Eastern division oversees more than 16,000 individuals in Northamptonshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Surrey.
During fieldwork in May and June, inspectors looked at 10 aspects of its work, rating half as good and half as requiring improvement.
The report said "workloads were too high", with an average of 43 cases per officer, compared to 39 nationally.
This was the highest of all the probation divisions and a "major risk to service delivery", it added.
Chief inspector of probation Justin Russell said: "The division has some clear strengths, especially around leadership, but also shows shortfalls in key areas, in particular high workloads and significant staff shortages.
"There were 102 vacancies for probation officers at the time of our inspection - a 16% gap in expected staffing levels."
Inspectors found good performance in areas, such as the approach to mental health issues, the assessment and planning of cases, and statutory work with victims.
But Mr Russell said there were "ongoing national problems" with the management of facilities by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
Inspectors found delays in carrying out repairs and staff had personal alarms that did not work properly.
"The Ministry of Justice must take more responsibility for ensuring safe and secure premises," Mr Russell said.
The MoJ said it was "providing a bespoke programme to resolve urgent works" across its premises.
Amy Rees, director general for probation, added: "We are training over 120 new probation officers in this region and will continue working tirelessly to boost our numbers."