Failing privatised probation services must be nationalised, say unions

Firms are being bailed out with public money amid a rise in serious offenses under privatisation.

Unions have written to the government today to demand failing privatised probation services are brought back into public hands – after new figures show a rise in serious offenses under the outsourced bodies. 

In a letter to justice secretary David Lidington, UNISON, the National Association of Probation Officers and the GMB argue the outsourced probation services are not working, with the public having to bail out many of the failing firms.

It comes as the government continues to sit on a long-awaited review of the so-called community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) which now run most of the sector. Details of the public money spent on spent keeping CRCs solvent have still not been released.

21 of these CRCs were set up and awarded seven-year contracts worth a total of £3.7bn in 2014. Yet nearly all have reported they are already making a loss, leading many of them to be handed fresh handouts from the taxpayer.

New figures also show a rise in the number of people who commit serious crimes while already serving sentences outside prison, since the probation service ‘reforms’ were introduced three years ago.

517 reviews were triggered in England and Wales in 2016/17 after charges for murder and other offences including rape – a rise of nearly 100 since pre-privatisation 2013/14, according to the data released this month by justice minister Sam Gyimah.

Now the government are planning to outsource contracts for night-time supervision in probation hostels, which house some of the most dangerous people to be released from prison before they are allowed to live in the community.

The public could be put at risk because private companies will employ poorly-trained staff and pay them low wages, say the three unions.

UNISON national officer Ben Priestley said:

“People are potentially being put at risk because private firms have not delivered on keeping the public safe.

“The justice secretary has admitted that privatisation isn’t working yet wants to continue this experiment through night-time supervision.

“What’s needed instead are properly trained public sector employees. That’s why the government must take back control of failing private probation services.”

Last month the Chief Inspector of Probation issued a damning report into Suffolk’s privatised probation service, run by French catering and privatisation firm Sodexo – in which she described the service as ‘nowhere near good enough’. Sodexo secured a seven year contract with zero competition, reported Private Eye.

NAPO general secretary Ian Lawrence added:

“Ministers were warned that privatisation would damage an award-winning service, and standards would deteriorate.

“This is now becoming reality and having a negative impact on public safety, staff well-being and the ability of people who have committed offences to turn their lives around.

“The government must now take urgent action, and these reforms should be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny.”

The move to outsource probation hostel security comes despite the government specifically establishing a government-run body to deal with high-risk offenders when former Justice Minister Chris Grayling privatised probation services in 2014 – presumably because private companies couldn’t be trusted to deal with them.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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