20:10, March 27 127 0 theguardian.com

2019-03-27 20:10:04
'Irredeemably flawed': UK probation inspector criticises service

Chris Grayling’s part-privatisation of services to monitor offenders in the community is irredeemably flawed, a watchdog has said.

In a highly critical assessment, Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation, highlighted a catalogue of problems including a national staff shortage, sub-standard performance of private providers and shortcomings in efforts to keep victims safe.

Probation services, which manage more than 250,000 offenders a year in England and Wales, have been part-privatised for the past five years under Grayling’s transforming rehabilitation programme, introduced when he was justice secretary”.

In her annual report, Dame Glenys Stacey said public ownership is a safer option for the core work. She revealed white noise is being used to stop private conversations between probation staff and offenders being overheard when meetings take place in open booths.

The inspector suggested a lack of judicial confidence in probation and community punishments may be leading to more custodial sentences in borderline cases.

The number of probation professionals is at a critical level, with too much reliance on unqualified or agency staff, according to Stacey. She said: “The probation model delivered by transforming rehabilitation is irredeemably flawed.

“Above all, it has proved well-nigh impossible to reduce probation services to a set of contractual requirements.

She said victims, judges, the public and offenders must all have confidence in the quality of the service. “I find it difficult to see how this can be achieved while probation remains subject to the pressures of commerce,” she added.

Individuals subject to probation include inmates preparing to leave jail, former prisoners in the local community and people serving community or suspended sentences.

Under Grayling’s shakeup, 35 public sector probation trusts were replaced in 2014 by the National Probation Service (NPS) which continued to be held in public ownership, and 21 privately owned community rehabilitation companies (CRCs), which cover different regions.

High-risk cases are supervised by the NPS, with all other work assigned to CRCs. The ministry of justice plans to end the existing CRC contracts early, in December 2020.

Under the proposed new system, 10 probation regions would be created in England, with each containing an NPS division and a CRC. In Wales, the NPS would assume responsibility for the management of all offenders.

Stacey said moving to better-funded and structured contracts would help but serious design flaws would remain unaddressed.

She was unable to say whether or not the public was less safe since the introduction of the existing regime. “What I do know is they could be a lot safer if we get the model right,” she said.

Setting out her probation blueprint, Stacey, whose tenure as chief inspector ends in May, called for a national approach and evidence-based services.

At the end of September, 258,157 offenders were on probation in England and Wales. Of those, 151,788 were under CRC supervision and 106,369 were managed by the NPS.

The prisons and probation minister Rory Stewart said: “I am grateful for this incisive report, which redoubles my determination to continue working towards a probation service that puts public protection first, commands the confidence of the courts and breaks the cycle of reoffending.

“Our reforms mean 40,000 more offenders are being supervised, which is a positive move for public safety, but it is clear the current model is not working and there is much more we need to do.

“We have already taken decisive action to end the current contracts early and have invested an extra £22m a year to support offenders on release – and we are carefully considering how best to deliver an effective probation service for the future.”

Richard Burgon, shadow justice secretary, said: “Chris Grayling’s reckless privatisation of probation has left the public less safe and wasted hundreds of millions of pounds in bailing out failing private probation companies.

“Instead of continuing with the deeply flawed idea of running probation for profit, the Tories need to act on the mounting evidence, scrap their plans for new private contracts and bring probation back in house.”





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