Probation reform anger

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South Yorkshire probation officers have branded plans to privatise the service a ‘disaster’ – and said public safety could be compromised.

The South Yorkshire branch of probation union Napo, said Government plans to outsource the managment of ‘low- and medium-risk’ criminals to charities and businesses were ‘flawed’ .

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling yesterday announced controversial probation reforms in which 70 per cent of the service’s work would be contracted out to private companies and charities from October.

It includes all work with low and medium-risk offenders, unpaid work and work with victims.

Offenders leaving prison after serving short sentences will be supervised in the community for at least 12 months.

Joan Woodhouse, for Napo in South Yorkshire, said: “The government’s plans for outsourcing this vital local service will be a disaster.

“Probation is performing well. Reoffending rates are falling. The public are being protected.

“There is no evidence the private sector has added any value to the provision of offender services in the past and the idea of private providers, with no experience in the area, supervising offenders is worrying.

“The decision will compromise public protection.”

The South Yorkshire Probation Trust, Division Street, Sheffield, reduced reoffending by 13.61 per cent in the last quarter – one of the highest rates in the country.

It supervises more than 7,000 offenders each year with 70 per cent managed in the community.

However, justice minister Jeremy Wright said currently 60 per cent of offenders leaving Doncaster prison after serving sentences of a year or less reoffended within a year.

He said: “They leave behind misery, victims and damage to our communities.

“We spend £4 billion a year on prisons and probation, but see little change in reoffending rates year on year. We all deserve better and that’s why we are radically reforming the system.

“Striking a balance between punishment and rehabilitation is essential.”

n Napo members were protesting against the reforms outside Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s Sheffield office in Nether Green today, at 4.30pm.