19:03, August 01 128 0 theguardian.com

2017-08-01 19:03:03
Increase in serious crimes by offenders on probation, figures show

There has been an increase in serious crimes committed by offenders under supervision in the community since the controversial privatisation of the probation service, figures suggest. The number of offenders on probation charged with murder, manslaughter, rape and other serious violent or sexual crimes has risen by more than 25% since changes to the service in England and Wales.

Plaid Cymru, which obtained the figures, said the trend was “extremely worrying” and called for the government to renationalise the probation service. The party also found that offenders in many parts of England and Wales are reporting to the new private-sector community rehabilitation companies (CRC), which are responsible for supervising offenders judged to be of low or medium risk, via phone call rather than in person.

The government played down the figures, saying that since the reforms many more offenders are supervised in the community after leaving prison, which makes an accurate comparison of the before and after pictures impossible. It said reporting via phone was just one technique used by CRCs.

According to the figures, in 2012-13 – before privatisation – 409 serious further offence reviews were triggered. By 2016-17, the number of SFOs had increased to 517.

The figures also show that between February 2015 and the end of 2016, 46 offenders were convicted of murder while subject to supervision by a CRC. This is likely to rise as a number of other cases are still going through the legal process.

Plaid Cymru’s justice spokesperson, the MP Liz Saville Roberts, said: “This is an extremely worrying rise in serious crime committed by people who are supposedly under supervision. These are offenders who, under the supervision of the probation service, committed murder, manslaughter, rape or another serious violent or sexual offence.

“That the number of instances of this kind has surged by 26% since the probation service was privatised is deeply worrying. The British government needs to admit it was wrong and commit to renationalising the probation service.”

The justice secretary, David Lidington, said last month that the privatised probation service had encountered “unforeseen challenges”.

Saville Roberts drew attention to leaked documents, first published by the Guardian in 2013, warning that there was a more than 80% risk that the proposals introduced by the then justice secretary, Chris Grayling, would lead to “an unacceptable drop in operational performance” triggering “delivery failures and reputational damage”.

She said: “It is astonishing that ministers are claiming the difficulties faced since privatisation were unforeseen when a leaked internal risk management document shows that they were warned.”

Harry Fletcher, a justice campaigner and former probation worker, said: “That the justice secretary claims that problems with the sell-off of the probation service were unforeseen is astonishing. The leaked risk assessment from 2013 was damning and warned about these problems but the British government ignored it.”

Under the changes to the service, the caseload was divided between the public sector National Probation Service – which took on higher-risk offenders – and 21 CRCs.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “In 2014, we reformed our approach to probation so that for the first time ever, all offenders given a custodial sentence receive probation support and supervision on release.

“It is therefore misleading to compare the number of Serious Further Offences prior to our reforms with subsequent figures, as the number of people on probation is now significantly higher than before.

“A thorough investigation is always carried out when someone commits a serious further offence to see whether anything could have been done differently.”