7 Feb 2023

Exclusive: Majority of Probation Service currently working at ‘excessive capacity’

Social Affairs Editor and Presenter

The majority of the Probation Service is currently working at excessive capacity, leaked internal figures obtained by Channel 4 News reveal, raising further fears that the service is struggling to cope.

Over the past week, more than two thirds of the service – eight out of the 12 probation regions in England and Wales – had caseloads exceeding 110%, the figure defined as an excessive workload by the Ministry of Justice.

The current national average stands at 111.7%, with the two most under-pressure areas – London and Yorkshire & Humber – currently working at 126.8% and 117.8% respectively.

A senior Probation Service manager told Channel 4 News’ Social Affairs Editor Jackie Long that the figures explicitly demonstrate a risk to the public, adding: “We’re in a system that is creaking.”

A government spokesperson said did not comment on the present capacity issues but said “immediate steps” had been taken to “address serious issues raised by recent reviews”.


The Probation Service is under unprecedented pressure following a spate of damning reports; the service was judged to have let down the murder victims of Damian Bendall and Jordan McSweeney, both of whom carried out the killings while on probation.

The latest insight into the strain on the service comes after a separate whistleblower told Channel 4 News last week that there was “organisational pressure” to downgrade the risk of offenders because of resourcing pressures.

The government strongly denied the claim, with the Labour Party demanding an independent investigation.

Analysis of Ministry of Justice data also revealed that almost 700 people had been murdered by an offender on probation since 2010 – the equivalent of one murder every week.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell has repeatedly refused to say whether he believes the public are safe from further harm given the problems within the service.


Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the manager – with decades of experience in the Probation Service – said some colleagues currently had individual workloads of well beyond 150%.

“All the time you’re juggling as a probation officer – 30, 40, 50, 60 individuals with changing risk patterns,” he said. “To be able to do all that under constant pressure when there’s no sign of relief is very difficult.”

He added: “It’s right that there is a spotlight on where it goes horribly wrong and where people have died, been seriously injured or raped. But it’s fair to say that we need to see this in context of what probation is going through and what needs to change to improve public protection.”

The father of a young child whose mother was murdered by her abusive partner – just weeks after he had been released from prison – told Channel 4 News that failings left families like his “feeling numb”.

“You have to explain to small children that their mother has been taken away unnecessarily – it’s just a total feeling of devastation,” the man, who cannot be named due to ongoing legal reasons, said.

He added: “If this [the Probation Service] was an aircraft it would have been grounded months ago.

“There doesn’t seem to be anyone out there prepared to take ownership of this and prevent these unnecessary deaths from happening.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We have taken immediate steps to address the serious issues raised by recent reviews and are investing £155m more every year into probation to improve the supervision of offenders and reduce officers’ caseloads and recruit thousands more staff to keep the public safe.”


Produced by: Jamie Roberton and Sally Chesworth