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Probation service: Offender supervision to be renationalised

Archive image from February 2015 of young offenders doing manual work as part of a Community Payback scheme in Manchester Image copyright Getty Images

Supervision of all offenders in England and Wales is to be taken over by the government after serious failings with the part-privatisation of the system.

Contracts with community rehabilitation companies, which monitor low and medium risk offenders, will not be renewed.

The National Probation Service – which manages those posing the highest threat – will take over in December 2020.

It reverses changes made five years ago by then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to drive down re-offending.

However, in March the National Audit Office said problems with the new system had cost taxpayers almost £500m and that the numbers returning to prison for breaching their licence conditions had “skyrocketed”.

And chief probation inspector Dame Glenys Stacey said the model of part-privatisation was “irredeemably flawed” and people would be safer under a system delivered by the public sector.

She said she was “delighted” about Justice Secretary David Gauke’s decision.

Under the new system being announced by Mr Gauke released prisoners and those serving community sentences will be monitored by staff from the National Probation Service based in eleven new regions.

Each area will have a dedicated private or voluntary sector partner, responsible for unpaid work schemes, drug misuse programmes and training courses.

Payment by results – a key element of Mr Grayling’s model – will not be used.

Nail in the coffin for flagship reforms

The decision to renationalise offender supervision will be seen as an admission by the government that Chris Grayling’s flagship reforms have failed.

He went ahead in 2014 despite numerous warnings about the considerable risks of splitting probation services between different providers and introducing a method of payment-by-results.

Probation unions and criminal justice experts urged him to at least pilot the new approach, so problems could be identified and rectified. But Mr Grayling went for quick, wholesale change.

He wanted the contracts with the private companies firmly in place before the 2015 general election so the system couldn’t be undone if there was a change of government.

However, inspection after inspection signalled serious problems, with the nail in the coffin being Dame Glenys Stacey’s report in March.

Mr Gauke said private firms and voluntary groups would still have a role to play to deliver a “stronger probation system” which reduces repeat offending.

“I want a smarter justice system that reduces repeat crime by providing robust community alternatives to ineffective short prison sentences – supporting offenders to turn away from crime for good,” he said.

The MoJ said the reforms announced on Thursday were designed to build on the “successful elements” of the existing system, which led to 40,000 additional offenders being supervised every year.

Probation union Napo welcomed the new approach but said it would continue to oppose the involvement of private firms in rehabilitation programmes.

And shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said the Conservatives had been “forced to face reality” that their probation model was “broken”.

But speaking on behalf of four companies that are responsible for 17 of 21 community rehabilitation companies in England and Wales, Janine McDowell, of Sodexo Justice Services in the UK & Ireland, said she was disappointed by the decision.

“As well as increasing cost and risk, this more fragmented system will cause confusion as offenders are passed between various organisations for different parts of their sentence,” she said.

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