09:44, June 04 249 0 theguardian.com

2020-06-04 09:44:04
Ministers considering renationalising England and Wales probation service

Ministers are considering renationalising the entire probation service in England and Wales, the Guardian understands, the latest twist in a long-running saga to unwind Chris Grayling’s disastrous reforms of the embattled sector.

Under Grayling’s widely-derided shake-up in 2014, the probation sector was separated into a public sector organisation managing high-risk criminals and 21 private companies responsible for the supervision of 150,000 low- to medium-risk offenders.

Last year, the Ministry of Justice announced all offender management would be brought under the state-run National Probation Service (NPS), while contracts for rehabilitation services such as the provision of unpaid work and accredited programmes were to be offered up to the private and voluntary sector.

But the Guardian can reveal that the government suspended the competition for contracts last week and after an internal MoJ review is considering renationalising probation services in their entirety.

Stakeholders have expressed a belief that this signals the end of private sector involvement in the probation sector, spearheaded by Grayling when he was justice secretary.

The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, is understood to have cancelled calls to stakeholders on Wednesday to appraise them of the situation.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Reforming probation to improve public protection and reduce reoffending remains one of our top priorities and we are assessing whether any changes to our current plans are required in light of the coronavirus pandemic. No decisions have been made.”

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP who recently reaffirmed her bid to become party leader, said: “The privatisation of probation has been a total and utter disaster. This whole mess has been a massive waste of public money, disastrous for the public and not working well enough for those stuck in the cycle of reoffending.

“I want us to now invest in rehabilitative services, both in prison and in the community, to enable people who have committed crimes to turn their lives around.”

Grayling ignored significant warnings from within his department to push through his so-called transforming rehabilitation reforms in 2014.

MPs on the public accounts committee said the changes were rushed through at breakneck speed, taking “unacceptable risks” with taxpayers’ money. The justice committee described the overhaul a “mess” and warned it might never work.

Dame Glenys Stacey, the former chief inspector of probation, who revealed that the Grayling shake-up had led to tens of thousands of offenders – up to 40% of the total – being supervised by phone calls every six weeks instead of face-to-face meetings, said the changes were “irredeemably flawed”.