Probation service in chaos as systems wipe offenders’ data

Labour warns that public has been ‘put in danger’ as new software destroys files and updates

Britain’s probation service is in chaos after a series of crippling computer failures over the past three weeks, with thousands of offenders’ case files lost, frozen or wiped.

In preparation for widely condemned moves to hand over 70 per cent of the service to the private sector later this year, the IT system was upgraded on 2 June. But probation officers across the country have told The Independent on Sunday that the updated systems are full of glitches and have even shut  down, leaving the service under “crisis management”. 

Offenders have been turned away from community service, evidence has not been available for court hearings, and new offences have not been added to case files.

The Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, warned last night that public safety had been “put in danger” by the crisis, while Unison said it warned the Government last month that “the potential for this mass restructuring of probation ICT [information and communication technology] systems … to go badly wrong is very high”.

The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, reorganised the service in April from 35 probation trusts into 21 community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) that mainly supervise those on community sentences or just released from prison. Private-sector contractors and mutual companies formed by probation staff are currently bidding to run the CRCs, with the winners expected to be confirmed by the end of the year.

The Government is also establishing a national probation service (NPS) for high-risk offenders, which will stay in state hands.

However, this division is hindering officers’ efforts to work together on cases that cross both services, an issue further complicated by the changed IT system that does not allow officers to see each others’ files. A revamp of a system known as nDelius also left some CRCs without access to files for a week. A second system, Oasys, has also been hit by glitches.

Dave Adams, the Warwickshire branch chairman of Napo, the probation officers’ union, said officers could not record the hours of community service offenders had done, creating a “huge backlog” of work.

He added that around 30 offenders on community service had to be turned away in Warwickshire alone that first week. Officers did not have their case files, so could not be certain that offenders were not, for example, guilty of sex crimes that would rule them out of working on school projects.

Other offenders who should have seen a probation officer within days of being in court have had those meetings delayed because court orders could not be electronically documented. “Colleagues are putting in entries to case files, then find them disappearing,” said Mr Adams.

Napo’s West Mercia branch chairwoman, Joanne Perkins, added that officers, asked in court for information on areas like how much unpaid work an offender had completed, could not provide the information as they could not access the files.

“‘Firefighting’ and ‘crisis management’ are the sort of terms being bandied about,” she said.

Yvonne Pattison, a Napo vice-chairwoman and a probation officer in the north-east, said the system has been dubbed “nDelirious”, with cases “just disappearing” from computer screens and others closing down half-completed as the Save button was not working. This has created major delays: serious cases involving parole reports can take up to two days to write.

Ms Pattison said at one point that the system would not allow updates to breaches of, and amendments to, offenders’ probation conditions. She added that new glitches were coming up “all the time”.

Mr Khan said: “I have been inundated with horror stories from around the country, and in the past few days have met staff at the coalface in London and South Wales about the chaos that’s crippling the probation system. What’s really alarmed me is how the IT system on which so much relies is in meltdown.

“If information on serious and violent offenders is being lost in the system, or disappearing into gaps because of the crazy way the probation service has been carved up, that’s when public safety is put in danger.”

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of Napo, said: “These reforms are an untried and untested dangerous social experiment which are being rushed through at breakneck speed without the proper infrastructure being in place.

“We urgently call on the Government to halt these so-called reforms, allow the infrastructure to be put in place, and to test this new system to make sure the public won’t be put at risk,” he added.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Where local IT issues have occurred we have worked with probation staff to swiftly resolve them. We have also kept in close contact with the courts and have had no reports of serious disruption.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas