Probation services return to public control in England and Wales

From 26th June this year, the probation service will return to public sector management. We look at what this means for the criminal justice sector, and what, if any, the consequences will be.

When was the change made?

In 2014, former Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, presided over the partial privatisation of probation services, with the aim of reducing reoffending and improving costs to the public tax payer. It led to what was assessed as "poor quality supervision" of many offenders.

Following a reassessment, former Justice Secretary David Gauke declared in May 2019 that the government would be re-nationalising some areas of the probation service. The current Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland QC, believes the reforms are a necessary response to COVID-19.

How will it happen?

From 26 June 2021, the new probation service will be responsible for managing all those on a community order or licence following their release from prison in England and Wales. It will also deliver unpaid work and behavioural change programmes in England and Wales.

The reforms allowed part of the National Probation Service’s (NPS) responsibility to be passed off to companies known as Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). While the NPS continued to monitor probation for high-risk offenders, CRCs became responsible for low to medium risk offenders, managing their behaviour programmes and unpaid work.

As well as reintegrating services, the Ministry of Justice has “refreshed” the 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.

However, according to a report in The Independent, “charities and private companies will still be invited to bid for £100m in annual funding to run other services, such as education, employment, accommodation and addiction treatment”.

To conclude

After a difficult seven years for the probation service In May this year, the HM Inspectorate of Probation reported that plans to unite probation services were progressing well, but that some gaps remained. HM Prison and Probation Service committed to recruiting 1,000 trainee probation officers in 2020-21. However, it will take several years for those new recruits to complete their training.

Despite the inevitable challenges, there's considerable optimism. "I welcome the decision to unify probation services and bring them back into the public sector," commented Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell. "We interviewed more than 200 probation staff and managers, and the vast majority were positive about the future too."

To read the full report published by the Justice committee, click this link.

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