PROBATION services in County Durham, Teesside and Darlington are improving, though concerns remain among staff who say they are facing "unmanageable workloads".

Services provided by the Durham Tees Valley Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) have been rated as "good", better than its previous inspection in 2018, when it was told it required improvement.

Inspectors praised the quality of work done with people under probation supervision and said there is better support for those leaving prison.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: "We were pleased to see the progress they have made. We look at 10 different areas and we think six of those are good or outstanding. We were pleased they have taken our last inspection seriously and taken some good action."

The CRC supervises more than 3,600 low and medium-risk offenders across County Durham, Darlington and Teesside, who are serving community sentences or are preparing to leave, or have left prison.

Inspectors praised its Through the Gate programme, which works to resettle people after prison.

It was given extra funding last April to increase staffing, which Mr Russell said was having a positive impact.

They also noted the success of two projects, including a Middlesbrough-based scheme which provides medical treatment and intensive support to offenders who are heroin users, and other with charity Three13, which helps people doing unpaid work access training and employment opportunities.

The pilot scheme has seen more than 40 people gain a vocational qualification between last October and January, with a further four people finding employment.

One participant spoke said: “My probation officer suggested working in the kitchens at a community centre. It wasn’t my calling, but I gave it a try. By being there, I was helping other staff and learning new skills.

"Thanks to this place, I am at my best and I have got my family back. My probation officer and this place have saved my life.”

The inspectorate has made six recommendations to improve the service.

Among the areas which still need improvement is the identification and management of potential risks of harm, including with victims of domestic abuse and child safeguarding.

The report showed officers' caseloads increased this year, while just under 70 per cent of probation officers described their caseload as "unmanageable".

Staff sickness has also increased, while the vacancy rate has risen to almost 20 per cent.

Probation officers have an average caseload of 37 cases, increasing to 50 for probation services officers.

Describing recruitment as a nationwide problem, Mr Russell added: "We think caseloads are better than others CRCs . I think the focus on quality checks and additional training has put more demands on their time but we think that has had a positive impact. "