Probation services are to be brought back under public control after the government said it would reverse controversial reforms that had seen private companies take over the supervision of offenders.
In a major government U-turn, justice secretary David Gauke announced that the National Probation Service will once again take responsibility, reversing a major Ministry of Justice reform.
The Transforming Rehabilitation programme split the probation system in two, with 21 private Community Rehabilitation Companies monitoring medium and low-risk offenders. The National Probation Service retained oversight of high-risk offenders.
However, the scheme has not been a success as the payment-by-results model intended to drive down reoffending rates cost £467m more than projected and led to worse outcomes.
In a report last month, the Public Accounts Committee said that the reforms had been introduced at “breakneck speed” to procure contracts before the 2015 general election and MoJ had failed to conduct adequate pilots or to “learn sufficiently” from similar programmes elsewhere. The MPs concluded that the the errors had combined to tie the reforms to a timescale that was “undeliverable from the outset”.
The department announced last year that it would end the contracts with the 21 CRCs two years early after Gauke said decisive action was needed to improve provision.
At the time, the minister said he would work with the private sector to design new and improved contracts that would align the probation firms with the NPS into 10 regions to improve joint working.
However, he has now announced that the probation reforms would be totally reversed.
"Delivering a stronger probation system, which commands the confidence of the courts and better protects the public, is a pillar of our reforms to focus on rehabilitation and cut reoffending,” he said today.
"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.
"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."
'Failure of the Grayling changes'
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said that the government “had been desperately trying to re-tender probation contracts to the private sector”, but it was right those plans have been dropped.
"We will press the government to ensure that probation is fully returned to being the award-winning public service it was before this disastrous privatisation," he said.
The climbdown is the latest in a line of government U-turns of policies instigated by former justice secretary and now transport secretary Chris Grayling.
His restrictions on books being sent to prisoners were eventually overturned by his successor as justice secretary, Michael Gove.
Under his watch, the Department for Transport awarded a contract for ferry services in the event of a no-deal Brexit to a company with no boats and also had to pay out £33m to Eurotunnel after the company claimed the department handed out the no-deal ferry contracts in a "distortionary and anti-competitive way".
Last week, the National Audit Office in a memo to the PAC revealed that Bernadette Kelly, the permanent secretary at DfT, had warned the ministry’s no-deal Brexit contracts were likely to face legal challenge before it reached the £33m settlement with Eurotunnel.
Responding to today’s probation announcement, PAC chair Meg Hillier said: “The government has finally recognised the failure of the Grayling changes to probation services.
“It was always a risky venture and the PAC has repeatedly highlighted the flaws in the model, the management of the contracts and the lack of resilience. It's heartening to hear the secretary of state speak about more work with specialist providers including in the voluntary sector. We highlighted this loss of expertise as one of our concerns about the system.
“This is the latest in a long list of projects initiated by Chris Grayling which have been overturned by his colleagues or the courts.”