Lancashire probation chief’s ‘concerns’ over offender revamp

Kevin Robinson, chief executive of Lancashire Probation Trust
Kevin Robinson, chief executive of Lancashire Probation Trust
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The head of Lancashire Probation Service today told of his concerns over Government plans to transfer some community probation services to the private sector.

Lower-risk offenders will be supervised by private firms and charities on a payment by results basis as part of a major shake-up of rehabilitation unveiled by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling yesterday.

Mr Grayling said the overhaul was needed because re-offending rates were currently too high.

He insisted private contractors would not be given any responsibility for the most dangerous offenders.

But unions have already hit out at the plans.

And Kevin Robinson, chief executive of Lancashire Probation Trust, said: “While we welcome the plans to introduce an element of supervision to offenders sentenced to less than 12 months in custody, we are concerned about the fragmenting of offender management and its implication on managing risk in the community.

“While the public sector probation service will retain responsibility for managing the highest risk offenders, those classed as low to medium risk will be managed by the private or voluntary services. This is approximately 70 per cent of offenders.

“A low risk offender could be anyone from a shoplifter to a sex offender or murderer who was given a life sentence and has been released.

“Splitting the service is a government ideology as it believes significant efficiencies can by made by outsourcing the work of the probation service to the private sector, but we need to ensure that by doing this, protecting the public remains our top priority.”

National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) and public service union Unison have also hit out at the proposed reforms.

Napo assistant general secretary Harry Fletcher, who estimates that 70% of the probation services will be put out to tender, said the decision was “astonishing”.

He said: “If this plan proceeds it will be chaotic and will compromise public protection.”

Unison national officer for probation staff Ben Priestley said the plans will dismantle the 105-year-old probation service in “one fell swoop”.

But Mr Grayling said the “great majority” of community sentences and rehabilitation work will be delivered by the private firms and voluntary organisations.

He said: “Providers will be commissioned to deliver community orders and licence requirements for most offenders in broad geographic areas, and will be paid by results to reduce reoffending.”

He added: “What we do at the moment is send people out of prison with £46 in their pocket, and no support at all. No wonder we have such high levels of reoffending.

“It is madness to carry on with the same old system and hope for a different result.”