Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Sunday, 22 November 2009

Probation work in 'chronic' state

Danny Afzal
Mr Afzal found there was little face-to-face contact with probation workers

Concerns have been raised over the state of the probation service in London after it emerged officers spend just 25% of their time face-to-face with offenders.

A confidential government report seen by BBC London shows workers spend the majority of their time communicating with ex-inmates by phone, letter or email.

The National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) described the situation in London as "chronic".

The Ministry of Justice said protecting the public was the top priority.

One former criminal Danny Afzal, said more face-to-face contact would stop some people "slipping through the net".

It is not that long ago we would have expected to spend an hour a week with offenders
Harry Fletcher, Napo

He said: "I got a letter once every six months basically saying 'I am going to be doing a report on you.'

"They would come and visit me, and be there for about 20 minutes but I didn't even know this person."

He added: "If there was face-to-face contact maybe it would stop people slipping through the net."

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, said: "It is not that long ago we would have expected to spend an hour a week with offenders.

"But now we have so many offenders we can only spend 15 minutes with them - that's clearly unacceptable."

Past failings

He added: "The situation in London is chronic."

Failures in the probation service were underlined last summer when Dano Sonnex tortured and killed two French students.

It later emerged his parole officer was handling 127 cases at the same time, leading to criticism in a report and the resignation of David Scott, head of the probation service in London.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "Public protection is the main priority of the probation service - offenders who pose the highest risk receive more intensive contact.

"Guidance on resourcing is provided to probation areas responsible for their own budget."

The spokeswoman added that the report was based on research carried out in 36 of the Ministry of Justice's 42 areas in 2008.

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