MoJ to renationalise probation services as Transforming Rehabilitation U-turn continues

Private companies cut out of unpaid work and behavioural programmes in further reversal of Grayling reforms

Grayling was justice secretary

. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Archive/PA Images

The Ministry of Justice will take control of work and behavioural programmes for convicts, in a further step to renationalise the probation system.

The announcement follows moves  announced last year to end the part-privatisation of the probation system that happened under former justice secretary Chris Grayling. Today's further step has been prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which justice secretary Robert Buckland had forced the department to "reassess" how it manages services.

The MoJ is preparing for a major overhaul that will see the National Probation Service take over management of low-risk offenders, who have been managed by so-called Community Rehabilitation Companies since 2014, next June. 


Last year it invited companies to bid to become “probation delivery partners” to run the unpaid work and behavioural programmes intended to help rehabilitate offenders.

But in an announcement yesterday, justice secretary Robert Buckland said the coronavirus pandemic had forced the MoJ to “reassess” its plans.

Companies and voluntary organisations will still be able to bid to run services including education, employment, accommodation and addiction treatment – but the probation service will take over delivery of unpaid work and behavioural change programmes, such as those for sexual offenders, when the CRC contracts end next year.

”This will give us a critical measure of control, resilience and flexibility with these services that we would not have had were they delivered under 12 contracts with a number of organisations,” Buckland told MPs.

“We can reassure the judiciary and the public that whatever lies ahead, offenders serving community sentences will be punished and make their reparation to society and that programmes to address their behaviour will be delivered.”

The MoJ has meanwhile invited companies and charities to bid for a share of £100m a year to run education, employment, accommodation and addiction treatment services.

Organisations must pitch the services they can deliver to the MoJ, at what scale and in what region. Services will then be commissioned locally by prison governors, probation regional directors, police and crime commissioners and “other authorities which require them”, according to yesterday’s announcement.

The department said it expected the voluntary sector to play an “enhanced role” in the probation system.

Announcing the changes, Buckland said cutting crime and reducing reoffending required “world-leading rehabilitation which turns offenders’ lives around”, as well as the use of technology like sobriety tags.

“The private sector will continue to play a key role in rehabilitating offenders, from specialist support services and operating prisons through to tagging and the job offers they give to those leaving jail,” he said.

The move comes as the NPS prepares for the transition to bring the probation system fully under public control next year.

The changes were announced in May 2019, when then-justice secretary David Gauke announced that the National Probation Service would once again take responsibility fot all offenders.

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.

But the disastrous programme, which used a payment-by-results model intended to drive down reoffending rates, cost £467m more than projected and led to worse outcomes.

Last year the Public Accounts Committee said the reforms had been introduced at “breakneck speed” to procure contracts before the 2015 general election. It said the MoJ had failed to conduct adequate pilots or to “learn sufficiently” from similar programmes elsewhere, and that the reforms had been “undeliverable from the outset”.

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