URGENT action is needed to improve the county’s probation service, an inspection report has found.

The report, compiled by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, found serious failings at Essex Community Rehabilitation Company.

More than two thirds, or 69 per cent, of staff said their workload was unmanageable.

Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said priority must be given to ensuring people on probation do not cause serious harm to others.

She identified a six-point plan to turn around the service’s requires improvement rating.

She said: “We found a lack of focus on the understanding, identification and management of risk of harm to the public.

“This must be remedied as a priority.

“In a third of the cases we looked at, there were concerns about domestic abuse.

“And the same proportion of cases had child safeguarding concerns.”

Essex CRC’s method of supervising people via telephone also came in for criticism.

Dame Glenys said: “Dispiritingly, many individuals under supervision are quickly relegated to telephone rather than face-to-face contact with their probation worker, despite pressing needs in the more complex cases.

“This approach provides nowhere near the level of supervision we expect.”

The fear is prisoners are being released early without sufficient checks and balances to ensure they can reintegrate into society without being a risk.

She added: “This organisation can rightly aspire to a better rating in the future if it is able to deal with the shortcomings that we found in our inspection.”

Inspectors complimented the “committed, able and forward-looking” senior managers at the service and the county’s unpaid work scheme was singled out for praise.

Dame Glenys said: “Unpaid work is delivered to a good standard, with elements of delivery showing signs of an outstanding scheme. This is unusual and a joy to see.”

Over the past year “highly motivated” staff supervised people to complete more than 215,000 hours of unpaid work, providing opportunities for reparation and rehabilitation.

An Essex CRC spokesperson: “We welcome this report and pleased the inspector has recognised the strong partnership arrangements we have across Essex which is crucial to reducing reoffending, as well as deeming our Community Payback scheme and range of services on offer as ‘good’.

“We fully accept the recommendations made and have already put an action plan in place to address these areas.”

Essex CRC supervises more than 4,000 low and medium-risk offenders.