MoJ probation reforms have left the service fragile, says PAC

3 May 19

MPs have slammed the Ministry of Justice’s “unacceptable” risk taking with public funds after rushing through probation service reforms.

The reforms, which began in 2014, cost the taxpayer an extra £467m but left probation services in a worse position than before, a damning report from the Public Accounts Committee has said.

It said the MoJ proceeded with the changes at “breakneck speed”, leaving the probation services in England and Wales “underfunded, fragile and lacking the confidence of the courts” following a move to replace probation trusts with privately-owned Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs).

Then justice secretary Chris Grayling dissolved 35 self-governing probation trusts and replaced them with 21 CRCs to manage offenders who pose a low or medium risk of harm as part of the ministry’s ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ reforms, which were expected to cut reoffending rates.

But between 2011 and March 2017 the average number of reoffences per offender increased by 22%, according to a recent National Audit Office report.

The PAC said CRCs had “insufficient income to cover the cost of basic, good quality probation services, leaving them unable to deliver the innovation promised and vulnerable to outright failure.”

In an attempt to mitigate the impact of these “failing” CRC contracts the MoJ paid £467m to end the contracts early.

The report said the ministry “suffered from optimism bias and gambled on the promises of innovation and it is unacceptable that so many unnecessary risks were taken with taxpayers’ money. The ministry acknowledges that it implemented its reforms at breakneck speed in order to procure contracts before the 2015 general election.”

Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, said: “Despite warnings from this committee and the National Audit Office over the past three years, the Ministry of Justice has failed to bring about the promised revolution in rehabilitation.

“Rather than deliver the savings hoped for at the start of the programme, the ministry’s attempts to address the failures in the reforms have cost the taxpayer an additional £467m while failing to achieve the anticipated improvements in reoffending behaviour.”

Richard Burgon, shadow justice secretary, said: “Chris Grayling’s disastrous decision to privatise probation has been a costly failure that has left our communities less safe.” 

Chris Grayling was justice secretary from 2012 to 2015. 

An MoJ spokesperson said: “We want a probation service that puts public protection first, commands the confidence of the courts and breaks the cycle of reoffending.

“Our reforms mean 40,000 more offenders are being supervised, which is the right move for public safety, but the current model is not working and we need to do more.”

In February, justice secretary David Gauke outlined plans to replace prison sentences with more community orders.

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