BETTER data collection, funding cuts and a growing caseload of “chaotic service users” were cited as reasons why figures show more offenders are dying under probation supervision each year.

Since reforms to the national probation service introduced thousands more offenders to staff caseloads, the number of UK deaths have risen by nearly a third (28 per cent), up 214.

An average of 19 men and women have died each year under the management of Essex Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), owned by the private Sodexo Justice Services.

One campaigner described a “complete institutional difference” towards people on release from custody.

However, Emma Osborne, a regional chief executive for several CRCs, said probation officers now manage a “significant group of quite chaotic service users” mostly with mental health issues and drug and alcohol issues.

She said: “There’s been significant cuts in alcohol and substance abuse services and the ability to access mental health services nationally.

“These service users are managed across a whole range of partnerships, not just the probation service, so it’s different from comparing in-custody deaths because these community cases touch lots of different services.”

To fill gaps in provision, Sodexo has begun delivering mental health services which are not part of the CRC contract, Ms Osborne explained.

“It’s the same with alcohol and substance abuse, we’re upping our delivery of those services and trying to get people into accommodation so looking at the stabilising factors for people coming out of custody and onto community orders, and trying to put those in place.”

The total deaths of offenders serving community sentences increased by 11 per cent and then 16 per cent between 2016/17 and 2017/18.

When the Government launched its Transforming Rehabilitation strategy, it was largely aimed at reducing reoffending with then justice secretary, Chris Grayling, acknowledging prisoners were being released from prison with “£46 in their pocket and no support at all”.


Chris Grayling in Downing Street, London. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Through-the-Gate support was also introduced for offenders being released with an additional £22 million funding.

Other changes which then came into force were:

  •  Prisoners serving sentences of less than 12 months became entitled to receive a year’s mandatory community supervision after leaving prison, which upped probation caseloads by an extra 40,000.
  • 35 probation trusts were reduced to seven National Probation Service (NPS) divisions and 21 privately-run CRC areas.

The BBC’s analysis of MoJ data shows:

  • The numbers of deaths have increased for 18 out of 28 NPS and CRC groups, including Essex CRC, which recorded 12 deaths and then 23 deaths for the past two years.
  • Last year, 966 deaths of offenders in the community were recorded nationally, compared to 752 in 2015/16.

Ms Osborne’s response to who has a duty of care for offenders under supervision was: “We have a responsibility to deliver the order of the court and the requirements on licence, so we deliver as proposed.”

Former prison governor Trevor Shortt, now Sodexo's director of community operations, acknowledged probation providers’ duty of care but added: “I cannot physically be, with all the best will or resources in the world, responsible for someone’s life whilst they’re on probation”.

He continued: “We typically see them for a small number of hours each month, depending on risk and need, but most of their time, and the vast majority of their lives are spent in the community at liberty.

“That includes a range of choices which simply aren’t available in a prison complex, and there’s personal accountability as well.

“So there’s a much more dynamic, broad and more complex set of arrangements in the community.”

Experts claim the statistics are further proof the split probation model is flawed.

Tania Bassett, of Napo, the trade union for probation staff, echoed inspection reports which have criticised probation providers for less one-to-one contact with service users and some companies monitoring ex-offenders over the telephone.


Tania Bassett of Napo

She said: “CRCs are routinely slammed by inspection reports. Safeguarding is one of the big issues.

“The Probation Service is also significantly short-staffed and being part of the Civil Service means it’s paralysed with bureaucracy and there’s a lack of flexibility in service delivery to meet local needs.

“Put all of that together and I’m not overly surprised we’re seeing an increase in the deaths of people on probation.”

Campaigners like Rebecca Roberts, head of policy at the charity Inquest, would like to see better scrutiny of deaths post-custody.

Deaths which occur while someone is staying in approved premises, formerly known as bail hostels, will be independently investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.

The MoJ also explained staff must examine the circumstances of a death in the community to identify whether improvements could be made.

Over time this has led to better data collection but for more than a fifth (22 per cent) of service users’ deaths, the cause is unknown.

Eight per cent (201) have been accidental and the biggest cause is self-inflicted (819).

There have been 2,550 in the past three years which includes people who have died from natural causes.

Ms Roberts said: “The Independent Office for Police Conduct investigates deaths after police custody. The same levels of scrutiny should apply to deaths of people after they leave prison.

“There’s been complete institutional indifference towards the lives and deaths of people following release from custody and a total lack of visibility and investigation.

“Transforming Rehabilitation reforms to probation services have been a disaster and many people are just abandoned after release.

“Deaths have been rising year after year, and we need more scrutiny on why this is and what can be done to prevent these deaths in future.”

The MoJ has said it is important to note the difficulties in obtaining conclusive information about an offender’s cause of death.

A spokesman explained that whilst the primary role of probation is to protect the public and prevent reoffending, it does not have sole responsibility for caring for offenders.