Partial privatisation of probation services scrapped

16 May 19

Probation services will be renationalised following failed partial privatisation of the system, the government has announced.

The National Probation Service will take over responsibility for all offenders in England and Wales in 2020, following costly reforms undertaken in 2014, justice secretary David Gauke has said.

Up to £280m will be made available to providers from the voluntary and private sectors, who will work as ‘innovation partners’ under the NPS.

The move comes after a series of warnings from watchdogs and select committees that reforms brought in by then justice secretary Chris Grayling were failing. The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee warned that the reforms had not only cost the taxpayer but also weakened service provision.

“The model we are announcing today will harness the skills of private and voluntary providers and draw on the expertise of the NPS to boost rehabilitation, improve standards and ultimately increase public safety,” Gauke said.

Dame Glenys Stacey, HM chief inspector of probation, said she was “delighted” at the announcement.

“Delivered well, these changes can make such a difference to the lives of those under probation supervision – about a quarter of a million people each year – and their families and wider society will benefit as well,” she added.

Currently, the NPS has responsibility only for offenders considered to be a high threat, with community rehabilitation companies in charge of low- and medium-risk offenders. One such CRC recently went into administration, with its contract being moved to another private company.

Grayling’s reforms saw 35 self-governing probation trusts replaced with 21 CRCs in a move that was expected to cut reoffending rates. However, an NAO report found rates actually increased, while the PAC noted that the reform cost the taxpayer an extra £467m.

But Joshua Pritchard, researcher at the Reform think-tank, suggested that renationalisation is not a panacea.

He said: “Probation is in crisis, but renationalisation isn’t some magic wand you can wave to solve it. The issue isn’t who delivers probation, but that the current design of the services isn’t fit for purpose.

“The contracting was rushed, which has led to the problems we now see – another knee-jerk decision won’t help.”

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said probation services should sit “squarely within the public sector”, but warned that “the devil still lurks in the detail”.

“How services will be delivered locally on the ground remains unclear,” she added.

In February, Gauke announced that the government would to do away with prison sentences of six months or less in favour of community orders.

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