IT delay holds up Home Office offender assessment system

The Home Office has confirmed that there have been IT delays to the Probation Service's new Offender Assessment system (Oasys).

The Home Office has confirmed that there have been IT delays to the Probation Service's new Offender Assessment system (Oasys).

A leaked National Probation Directorate circular earlier this year warned that Oasys software development and implementation will be subject to significant delay, partly as a result of project management issues.

However, the Home Office insists it is resolving the project management difficulties. A spokesman said, "We have acted quickly to address the issues by bringing in more staff and improving project management.

"All the training is on schedule and there will be no delay in reaping the service's benefits."

The service will roll out the full IT element of Oasys in late summer 2003, the spokesman said.

Robin Pape, head of IT at the National Probation Service, has already identified Oasys as a key part of the service's long-term strategy.

The Home Office spokesman said, "The basic principle behind the Offender Assessment system is that there is a single, consistent, tool for assessing offenders and the risk they pose."

The benefits are not dependent on the full IT roll-out, the spokesman added.

Jointly designed by the prison and probation services, Oasys will provide a national system for assessing the risks and needs of an offender.

The leaked circular also pointed to problems with an Oasys prototype, trialled in the Durham area earlier this year, which, it said, "did not support reports against the data entered and was unfavourably received".

A Home Office spokesman said the system had been modified since this feedback.

The service has been dogged by inadequate IT and poor project management. Last year a National Audit Office report highlighted the fact that the predecessor of the current Standard Technical Environment for Probation Services - the National Probation Service Information Systems Strategy - had employed seven programme directors between 1993 and 2000, of whom only two had significant IT experience.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said, "All the recent evidence suggests that there are still major ongoing problems with the Probation Service's IT. If these are not resolved quickly it will result in a deteriorating service to the public."

Probation Service IT in trouble
  • NPSISS: the National Probation Service Information Systems Strategy, delivered late, troubled by poor project management, over budget and not what users wanted

  • Steps: Standard Technical Environment for Probation Services IT support contract awarded to Integris in 2001 to replace NPSISS

  • Crams: a case management system intended to enable access between magistrates courts, probation, prison and police service systems, low take-up, practical problems

  • Oasys: Offender Assessment System - a tool to help probation officers assess the risk offenders pose and the help they need - IT element now running late.

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