Prisons and Probation Services to merge, but IT questions remain

It has emerged that the Probation and Prison Services are set to merge, despite their poor IT track records and the lack of a...

It has emerged that the Probation and Prison Services are set to merge, despite their poor IT track records and the lack of a unified case management system.

 

The move that would herald the creation of a unified correctional service follows a joint Home Office/Downing Street review of the services by businessman Patrick Carter.

 

Both services have recently come under fire for their IT shortcomings. In September, government inspectors criticised Probation Service IT for the second time in three years, highlighting the inadequacy of the Service’s Crams case management system.

 

Prison IT also has a chequered history. In 1998, the service’s Quantum project, which aimed to provide staff with access to modern IT facilities, was put on hold on for 17 months. Last September, the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee found that inadequate IT was slowing down the Prison Service’s attempts to modernise its procurement strategy.

 

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, warned that the Probation Service must resolve the long-standing problems with its case management system if a merger is to be successful.

 

“If this merger is going to work successfully, then probation has got to sort out the fiasco of its case management system, which has been a major problem for over a decade now,” he said.

 

September’s interim review by the Inspectorate of Probation found that there were still problems with the Probation Service’s Crams system, which led to threats of industrial action by staff in 2002.

 

The report found that arrangements for extracting data from Crams “are not straightforward for operational staff”. However, inspectors also found that the ground is being laid for future IT developments.

 

Both the Probation and Prison Services have signed major IT deals over the past few years to support their modernisation agendas.

 

In 2000, the Prison Service signed a £200m, 10-year deal with EDS for the provision of IT infrastructure services. The following year, the National Probation Directorate signed a £50m contract with systems integrator Steria.

 

Last year Tony Blair admitted that many of the UK’s criminal justice IT systems are “still in the dark ages” and the government allocated £1bn to modernising technology across the sector.

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