Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Unions warn over probation reforms

Unions have reacted angrily to plans to transfer the majority of probation services to the private sector

Proposals to transfer the bulk of probation services to the private sector are "dangerously misguided" and threaten public safety, unions have warned.

Lower-risk offenders will be supervised by private firms and charities on a payment by results basis as part of a major shake-up of rehabilitation.

Prisoners serving sentences under 12 months will also be forced to undertake a period of rehabilitation upon release for the first time.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the overhaul was necessary as reoffending had been "too high for too long", with 48% of prisoners re-convicted within 12 months of release.

But the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) and public service union Unison hit out at the proposed reforms.

Napo assistant general secretary Harry Fletcher, who estimates that 70% of the probation services will be put out to tender, said the decision was "astonishing".

Unison national officer for probation staff Ben Priestley said the plans will dismantle the 105-year-old probation service in "one fell swoop". He added: "We support the ambition of the Justice Secretary to revolutionise rehabilitation, but he is dangerously misguided in his approach."

Total spending on prisons and offender management was £4 billion in 2011/12, Mr Grayling said, but the wider economic impact is estimated at as much as £13 billion. He said he wanted to see more competition in probation services and bring in a wider mix of providers in a bid to increase efficiency and drive down costs.

Mr Grayling said the "great majority" of community sentences and rehabilitation work will be delivered by the private firms and voluntary organisations.

He added: "What we do at the moment is send people out of prison with £46 in their pocket, and no support at all. No wonder we have such high levels of reoffending. It is madness to carry on with the same old system and hope for a different result."

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