A PROBATION service serving the Isle of Wight has had 'a sharp decline in the quality of work' it provides due to staffing shortfalls, a watchdog has found.

However, its work with newly released prisoners was rated as outstanding.

In March, HM Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP), an independent body, found cost-cutting restructures in the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), which supervises nearly 3,000 low and medium-risk offenders across the two counties, had had a 'profound' effect.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: "It was disappointing to find a sharp decline in the quality of work with individuals under probation supervision. We have concluded this is directly related to a shortfall in sufficiently trained and experienced probation staff.”

The CRC, owned by Purples Features and part of the wider Interserve Justice company, underwent a restructure due to reduced income, following the last HMIP inspection in January 2019, when the service had been rated 'Good'.

However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the inspection of the service, which helps those serving community sentences or those who have left or are preparing to leave prison, were cut short and an overall rating could not be awarded.

Despite that, the inspectors found the time between inspections had been an exceptionally testing and challenging year for the leaders of the CRC' as the organisation lost many experienced and skilled practitioners within a short space of time following the new implementation of the operational model.

One problem with the new model, was that senior leaders had failed to take sufficient account of the need for skilled staff and the time required to recruit and train new case managers.

There had been a 38 per cent reduction in the number of senior case managers since the previous inspection while the number of lower-grade case managers had risen significantly, 45 per cent were new to the service.

Mr Russell said: "After the last inspection, we warned substantial changes to the workforce would put the quality of work at risk.

"It takes time for new probation staff to develop the knowledge, skills and experience to handle complex cases. The negative impact of the restructure on the service has been profound.”

Inspectors found new staff had been assigned complex cases that were beyond their level of experience and more established staff had high workloads, which compromised the quality of their work.

Case supervision in the overall March inspection was rated 'inadequate' in all standards.

Also, management oversight was stretched and did not pay enough attention to potential risks of harm but the organisation was committed to learning and developing more.

inspectors did find a much-improved service for individuals preparing to leave prison and resettle in the community, receiving additional funding from central government, and was able to rate this area as 'outstanding'.

Mr Russell said in relation to the Covid-19 that all probation services have been under enormous pressure during the lockdown.

"Local leaders understand the problems faced by this CRC and, to their credit, they have communicated openly with staff," he said. "We hope the organisation continues to pull together and make further improvements."