Criminals on probation kill five a month

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The Independent Online
FIVE MURDERS and five rapes are being carried out every month by criminals who are not being properly supervised while on probation, and the number is increasing, according to a Home Office report published today.

The Government is so concerned about inadequate supervision of potentially dangerous criminals that it has told all Chief Officers of Probation to make greater efforts to identify likely reoffenders.

The Independent has seen a copy of Home Office research which shows that 128 people on probation were charged with murder, rape or other serious offences in the first six months of last year, although 21 cases were later dropped.

The number of incidents - which included 33 murders, 29 rapes, 14 attempted murders and three manslaughters - represents a 25 per cent increase on the numbers charged with such crimes while on probation in 1996.

The Home Office report states that in 42 of the 107 serious cases analysed, researchers identified a "supervision shortfall" by probation staff. In 46 per cent of all cases, the Probation Service had failed to meet the standards laid down by the Government.

A Home Office source said last night: "It's clear that Probation Service performance in meeting national standards leaves a great deal to be desired. The record is not good."

While not wishing to downplay the suffering of the victims, Gill Mackenzie, of the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, pointed out that the figure represented "less than a tenth of 1 per cent of all offenders" supervised by the Probation Service.

The report took no account of the success stories, where the action of probation officers had prevented serious offences, she said.

She added that the report coincided with a time of intense pressure on the service. "Resources have been reduced by 25 per cent in four years and our workloads have increased by 30 per cent in the same period."

She also pointed out that the report had not proved a "causal link" between the errors committed by probation officers in dealing with an offender and the crimes which were later committed.

Nevertheless, the study did find that only 15 per cent of offenders who were later charged with a serious offence were assessed by probation staff as being "both high risk of reconviction and high risk to the public".

The report cites the case of one 19-year-old gang member, with a history of violent crime, who was allowed to go without probation supervision for up to four months at a time. The staff concerned were later disciplined.

Home Office sources accepted that probation resources had been cut but said ministers were providing an extra pounds 18m for the service in the next three years.

One source said part of the money would need to be invested in improving methods of identifying high-risk offenders and ensuring that orders imposed on offenders by the courts were properly enforced.

Both issues have recently been identified by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation as areas where the Probation Service is failing to deliver.