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Poor ICT hinders probation casework, says NAO



National Audit Office report throws focus on bad design and inefficiencies in systems used in rehabilitating offenders

Probation workers are struggling with ICT systems delivered as part of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, with a duplication of work, periods of unavailability and some work being lost, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

Its new report, Transforming Rehabilitation, says the issue is contributing to operational problems and risks, undermining the Ministry of Justice's (MoJ) success in restructuring the probation service.

Amid other problems, it says the reforms have exacerbated some long standing problems with ICT.

Staff have complained that the main case management system, nDelius, it is not intuitive and has been very difficult to use, partly because it was laden with performance and contract management functions as part of the reforms. There have been complaints of it wasting several hours of working time per week, and the National Probation Service (NPS) has had to make a series of minor changes.

Users have also claimed that nDelius has lost work, been unavailable for some periods, and that they had received only limited training.

Recidivism risk

Problems have also arisen with the 'risk of serious recidivism' (RSR) tool to assess offender risk. It is unable to pull information from other systems, requiring staff to re-enter data, and has sometimes made miscalculations and misreported results.

Staff complained the tool was time consuming to use and should not be required for high risk cases, following which the guidance was changed so its use before sentencing was not compulsory for all cases.

The Offender Assessment System (OASys) requires manual re-entry of information already in nDelius and the RSR tool, which increases the error rates; and the case allocation system is partly paper based. Work on improving the latter is currently taking place.

The NAO says these problems have prompted most community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) to install their own case management systems and ICT infrastructure. While the National Offender Management Service had planned to provide an interface between these and nDelius by June of last year, it has still not been delivered and has been holding back the CRCs' transformation plans.

Incentive mismatch

The report says another problem is that different organisations involved in the rehabilitation reforms have different incentives, and that there has been friction between NPS and CRCs' staff. Also, CRCs are paid primarily for completing specified activities with offenders, and the levels of business have been significantly lower than the MoJ originally projected.

On a more positive note, probation services have been sustained through the transition period, as they have been split between the NPS and CRCs, and 77% of users said they had not noticed any change in the services.

Amyas Morse (pictured), head of the NAO, said: “The ministry has successfully restructured the probation landscape and avoided major disruptions in service, but this is only the beginning.

“The NPS is not yet operating as a truly national, sustainable service and the ministry needs to address operational issues, many of which are long standing, such as weaknesses in ICT systems.

“The ministry also needs to have a deeper understanding of risks associated with reduced business for CRCs. Achieving value for money will require the resolution of these fundamental issues.”

Picture from NAO

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