Probationers commit a murder a week

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The Independent Online
Offenders on probation are charged with one murder and a sexual assault on average every week, a Home Office report revealed yesterday.

Criminals serving community sentences and under supervision after being released from prison are also on average said to be responsible for an attempted murder every fortnight and nearly one act of violence every week.

In four cases, mentally ill people who failed to receive psychiatric treatment despite it being a condition of their probation order, went on to kill. Failure properly to supervise criminals was found in nearly one-fifth of all cases, some of which contributed to further reoffending.

The study, which disclosed that 69 murder charges were brought against people under supervision during a 13-month period, will be seized upon by critics of the Probation Service who have long argued that it is a soft option and have called for greater use of imprisonment. There will also be concern about the apparent lack of treatment for mentally ill offenders. This follows an alarming number of killings by former psychiatric patients.

But chief probation officers argued yesterday that the offences, while shocking, were only a tiny proportion of the 190,000 people they dealt with every year.

Helen Crosby, of the Home Office's Probation Unit, concluded in the report: "The analysis shows that offenders under probation supervision are charged with murder or a serious sexual offence at a rate of about one per week; this is a matter of considerable concern."

The Home Office took the unusual step yesterday of publishing the Probation Circular of Serious Instant Reports, which are voluntary provided by the 54 regional probation services in England and Wales.

The study examined 204 incidents involving 184 offenders from November 1995 to December 1996, most aged 20-35; nearly half had a previous conviction for a violent offence. Most offences happened within eight months of supervision.

The vast majority of the offenders had problems involving mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and convictions for sexual offences, but only one-fifth of their sentences included specific measures to deal with these. About one-third of the 27 mentally disordered offenders had difficulty obtaining treatment.

Supervision failures identified in 36 cases included not following national standards, failure to carry out home visits, not covering staff absences, poor inter-service and inter-agency communications, and failure to deal with negligent officers.

Mary Honeyball, of the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, said: "The report shows that probation work is very often a matter of life and death ... This report gives no clues as to how many incidents are avoided due to the well judged and timely actions of staff."

A Home Office statement said offences committed while on probation were of "great concern". But added: "However, such incidents do not necessarily indicate a supervision failure by the probation service."

Charges against criminals under supervision

During 13 months to December 1996, there were 285 charges against people on probation, including:

Murder - 69

Attempted murder - 32

Rape - 30

Possession of firearm/ offensive weapon - 19

Robbery - 15

GBH - 12

Indecent assault - 10

Kidnap - 7

Attempted rape - 6

Wounding with intent - 5

Manslaughter - 5

Buggery - 4

Armed robbery - 4