Case Studies

Inexperience the issue in police, CPS, prisons

by Mark Rowe

Not retaining experienced staff, with wider challenges such as court backlogs, has seriously hindered the whole criminal justice system’s ability to deliver a high-quality service to victims of crime, according to an official report.

Some 9,192 full time equivalent (FTE) police officers left forces in England and Wales in 2023 (not including transfers); that’s an increase of 1,075 FTE or 13.2 per cent on the previous year. According to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) the most common reason for leaving is normal retirement. Recruitment and retention of specialist staff such as those in digital forensics, fraud and cyber-crime units is a persistent problem within policing, according to the inspectors; and policing should accept that it will lose staff and skills to private businesses, where there are better wages, development, conditions and wellbeing on offer, the report suggests.

As for why at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) staff, including prosecutors, leave the service, exit interviews are not routinely conducted, the report noted. A quarter of the 180 pupil barristers appointed via the legal trainee scheme between 2016 and 2022 left within 12 months of qualifying.

At the Probation Service, the overall leaving rate as of June 2023 was 10.1 per cent, which the report describes as ‘having a significant impact on the level of experience of staff remaining’. The return from remote working to the office after the covid pandemic has also presented its own challenges, the inspectors added, as some staff are in the office less frequently than before the pandemic, ‘meaning that invaluable shadowing opportunities occur less frequently’.

And in prisons the report pointed to ‘an over-worked and inexperienced workforce’, where the leaving rate of prison officers (bands 3-5) in the 12 months to June 2023 had risen, to 13.4 per cent, which the report described as ‘unmanageably high, which is compounded by days lost through sickness’. While those parts of the criminal justice system do different work, the inspectors found that ‘risk across all those we inspected was the levels of inexperience’, and no longer unfilled vacancies. In the police, 20pc of the national workforce will still be in their first two years of service by the end of 2024-25 and ‘these years are when proportionately more resignations take place’, the report stated.

As for workload, pressures arising from the pandemic have not eased as anticipated, and the Crown Court outstanding caseload remains high. The report urges that all agencies invest more in understanding why staff leave; and, that all agencies regularly review caseloads, capacity, capability and productivity.

Chief Inspector, Andrew Cayley said: “An effective criminal justice system relies on each agency having a sufficient number of staff, with the requisite experience and skill sets.

“While we have seen each criminal justice agency respond positively to the pandemic and boost their numbers, they have also lost experienced staff who cannot be easily replaced. Inevitably, this has placed significant burdens on the shoulders of senior staff and ultimately, reduces the quality of service being provided to defendants, witnesses – and to victims of crime.

“To turn this around and deliver positive outcomes, especially for victims of crime, we are today calling on the police, CPS, prison and probation service to better understand why staff are leaving and regularly review their outputs to guarantee better supervision and support for their staff.”

You can read the 19-page Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorate report on recruitment and retention in the police, the CPS, the Probation and Youth Offending Services and the Prison Service at the inspectorates’ website.

Photo by Mark Rowe; Inverness Prison.

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