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A guilty verdict for privatised probation

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Chris Grayling. Photo: Crown Copyright

Chris Grayling (of train chaos and the ferryless ferry contracts) introduced Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) in 2015. The aim was to shake up probation services through innovative private-sector gumption. Private Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) would manage low and medium risk offenders; producing better outcomes for offenders and saving the tax payer £10.4bn.

Today the National Audit Office (NAO) delivered their verdict on TR, and it is not pretty.

The report gives the impression that TR was a bad idea implemented badly; concluding "The Ministry set itself up to fail in how it approached Transforming Rehabilitation". The Ministry (MoJ) did not adequately test how the system might work before awarding contracts. They lacked understanding of how the old probation trusts operated before they were scrapped. They ended a number of pilots early and cancelled some before they even began.

The NAO report notes that only six out of 21 CRCs achieved a statistically significant reduction in reoffending. Overall there was a 2.5% reduction in reoffending, but levels of reoffending per offender went up by 22%. Implying that many were not getting the support they needed.

On top of this, initial estimates of the levels of offenders managed by the CRCs proved to be highly optimistic. As a result a large number faced severe financial difficulties and there is a risk of that several providers will go bust.

In a service like probation, this puts both offenders and the public at risk. The MoJ have decided to terminate contracts early to avoid CRCs collapsing. Instead of saving £10bn, TR will cost the tax payer £171m just from this decision alone. The total cost is closer to half a billion.  

Communication between the CRCs and the National Probation Service, the body responsible for managing serious offenders, was highlighted as a serious concern and in fact the report found that this split was a serious risk factor.

The NAO say that even though the MoJ has produced proposals to improve the system "…the Ministry’s proposals for probation services do not address all the risks, and they introduce some new ones". In particular they highlight the split between the NPS and the CRCs, and the risks of a new procurement process.

Earlier this week the Mirror reported that offenders monitored by CRCs committed 225 murders in the four years following privatisation. This shocking, and tragic statistic is only one of the many ways that TR has failed offenders and the public.  

This is damning enough, but none of it should have been news to the MoJ.

When the reforms were first proposed, unions were clear: these changes would not save money and they would put lives at risk. It is no consolation to have been proven right.

If the MoJ are interested they don’t have to look far for an alternative. In Wales the MoJ began a consultation on reuniting probation services in 2018. If a unified service is the right option for Wales, why can’t isn’t it an option for England?

It’s time that the MoJ listen to the voice of workers and their representatives; end the dangerous split in probation and bring it back into public ownership.

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