MoJ launches overhauled Probation Service in Transforming Rehabilitation reversal

Watchdog sounds warning that the change will not be a silver bullet
The reforms bring together officers from the National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies. Photo: Richard Coombs / Alamy Stock Photo

Privatised probation services have been returned to public control in England and Wales and absorbed into the newly-named Probation Service in a reversal of reforms that began in 2012.

As of today, the service comprises more than 7,000 probation officers who have been working for the private Community Rehabilitation Companies and around 3,500 who have been working for the National Probation Service.

As well as reintegrating services, the MoJ has “refreshed” the national national standards for probation, it said, including an expectation for the first time that staff will visit offenders’ homes to protect children, partners and other family members from domestic and sexual abuse.

The changes to probation will also give the government “greater levers over community sentences”, including unpaid work, the MoJ said.

Justice secretary Robert Buckland said the changes – along with a recruitment drive that saw 1,000 new probation officer trainees hired last year – will ensure the “public is better protected, crime is cut and fewer people become victims”.

However, the watchdog responsible for monitoring probation services warned that the move, while welcome, “will not be without its challenges”.

Justin Russell, the chief inspector of probation, said that budget cuts have put staff "under relentless pressure [with] unacceptably high caseloads", leading to "poorer quality supervision, with over half of the cases we inspected in the private sector probation companies being unsatisfactory on some key aspect of quality".

He said: ‘There are no magic bullets here: structural change needs to be backed by sustained investment for there to be true improvement. Real transformation is a long-term commitment, and unification is just the beginning of that journey.”

Last year, Russell told CSW that preparing for the transition would be a “really big challenge for probation leaders and directors” already dealing with the consequences of the pandemic.

He said the system was in need of a large injection of cash, following a 40% real-terms drop in probation funding per case since 2003.

And funding for other services that reduce reoffending, such as mental-health support, drug services and housing has “suffered as well over recent years”, he said.

Reversing the reforms

Under the Transforming Rehabilitation programme championed by then-justice secretary Chris Grayling, the management of medium low-risk offenders was outsourced to CRCs, while the NPS managed high-risk offenders.

But the Ministry of Justice announced in 2018 that the reforms would be reversed after it emerged that the payment-by-results model, which was intended to drive down reoffending rates, had cost £467m more than projected and led to worse outcomes.

It had initially said that it would design a new part-privatised system after ending the CRC contracts early – but in 2019, it confirmed services would be fully renationalised.

However, companies and charities will provide further services to reduce reoffending, such as housing, employment and training support, through a £195m contract awarded in May.

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