HMPPS notches up recruitment record for probation officers

Service hires more than 1,000 new trainees in a single year as disastrous reforms are reversed
Birmingham Magistrates Court Credit: Elliott Brown/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

By Jim Dunton

04 Jun 2021

HM Prison and Probation Service has said it hired a record number of trainee probation officers in 2020-21.

The service said it recruited 1,007 new staff over the period and expects to hire an additional 1,500 in the current financial year as part of a £310m investment aimed at protecting the public by cutting repeat offending.

Prisons and probation minister Alex Chalk said the record recruitment level for trainee probation officers is part of a wider government investment in public safety.

“These new recruits are a key part of our plan to make the country safer, alongside 20,000 more police officers, tougher sentences and the building of 18,000 new prison places,” he said.

“Probation officers are unsung crime fighters, sending offenders back to prison if they breach their licence conditions, and helping others turn their lives around so that they don’t commit more crime.”

The recruitment drive follows the scrapping of the coalition government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, which privatised some probation services and introduced a payment-by-results model in a bid to reduce reoffending rates. However, the project cost £467m more than was projected and led to worse outcomes.

In a damning 2019 report, parliament’s Public Accounts Committee said the reforms had been introduced at “breakneck speed”, lacked adequate pilots and had been saddled with timescale that was “undeliverable from the outset”.

Transforming Rehabilitation saw the creation of 21 community rehabilitation companies to oversee probation services for low and medium-risk offenders, while the National Probation Service was responsible for higher-risk offenders. 

The government expected to pay CRCs up £3.7bn if they hit their targets to reduce reoffending rates by 2021-22. But by March 2017 just six of the companies were consistently achieving significant reductions in reoffending, while reduced volumes of work and a failure to make efficiency savings meant that CRCs were facing significant losses under the payment-by-results model.

The Ministry of Justice was forced to provide financial support to CRCs and ultimately chose to end their contracts early.

HMPPS said public safety will be “boosted further later this month” when the supervision of low and medium-risk offenders comes back under public-sector control. It said probation officers will be able to devote more time to the most high-risk offenders as a result.

It added that reoffending accounts for around 80% of all recorded crime and that the improvements to probation services are designed to prevent thousands of people becoming victims each year, cutting down some of the estimated £18bn annual cost of repeat offending.

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