Charles Hoffman, released under Creative Commons
The Ministry of Justice has announced it will end the contracts with 21 private companies created to run probation services two years early after justice secretary David Gauke said decisive action was needed to improve provision.
In a statement released today, Gauke said reforms introduced to split the probation system in two in 2014 – transferring the monitoring of medium and low-risk offenders to the private sector and creating the National Probation Service for higher-risk offenders – had faced significant challenges.
The MoJ said the changes led to 40,000 extra offenders a year receiving support and supervision on release across England and Wales, but “unforeseen changes” in the types of offenders coming to the courts had substantially reduced the income of the community rehabilitation companies.
Several of these CRC had made very substantial losses, and the government announced earlier this year that £342m in additional funding was being made available to the contractors, who are signed up to run services until 2021-22. According to figures published in January, just two CRCs met their targets to reduce reoffending in the first year of the system’s operation.
Gauke said today the government would therefore end the CRC contracts early in 2020 and 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.
In addition, the government would provide an extra £22m to improve support when prisoners leave prison.
Setting out the planned changes, Gauke said: “I am determined to have a probation service that protects the public, commands the confidence of the courts and ultimately reduces reoffending.
“We want to see less reliance on ineffective short prison terms, and in order to achieve this courts must have confidence that probation services will deliver tough community sentences - sentences that punish, but also help those who commit crime to turn their lives around and stop offending.
“I am confident that the proposals set out in this consultation will play a major role in helping us to achieve this aim.”
The reforms have long been criticised, with the MoJ criticised by MPs on the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee for setting probation services up to fail by “massively underestimating” the costs incurred by the new providers.
In an NAO report last December, auditors highlighted that the projected maximum fees by the ministry to CRCs had now increased by £342m over the life of the contracts.
Responding to today’s announcement, Home Affairs Select Committee chair Yvette Cooper said that “the government was warned about this again and again”.
She added: “Probation officers, police officers and frankly pretty much everyone else all warned them this policy would be a disaster and would put public at risk.”
The Government was warned about this. Again. And again. Probation officers, police officers & frankly pretty much everyone else all warned them this policy wd be a disaster & wd put public at risk. And it has. How can Chris Grayling get away with this kind of failure? Again. https://t.co/CeHX7MTFwV
— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) July 27, 2018
The MoJ said its changes set out for consultation would improve joint working with a range of agencies, including improved working with the third sector, local authorities and police and crime commissioners. It also proposed to bring the supervision of all offenders in Wales into the NPS and explore how wider partners can help to improve rehabilitative support for offenders.
The consultation will seek to gather views and expertise from a range of potential providers, including the voluntary sector, as well as other stakeholders.