Column: Probation

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 24th May:

Much was made last week of the Government’s decision to finally acknowledge what I and many others have been telling them for too long: that their decision to part-privatise the probation service has been an unmitigated disaster.

The decision made back in 2013 under then-Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has proved costly, both to the pockets of the taxpayer and, tragically, human life.

Back then, the probation service was broken up and split apart, with private companies tasked with managing low and medium risk offenders in ‘Community Rehabilitation Companies’, or CRCs.

There are 21 CRCs in total across the country, responsible for the management of around 150,000 offenders.

The service they undertake is absolutely vital, both to the rehabilitation of the many offenders looking to get their lives back on track, and the safety of the communities they serve.

But done with the intention of saving money and improving results, quite the opposite proved true.

Serious reoffending has soared, with a 22 percent increase in the average number of offences per reoffender.

Underqualified and inexperienced probation staff, through no fault of their own, have been overstretched and undervalued, as private companies prioritise cutting costs over performance.

And hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer money has been handed over and pocketed by these same companies for the privilege.

Here in Barnsley, we saw first-hand the devastation caused by an offender on probation supervision and two others who had recently finished.

The tragic death of Jacqueline Wileman last year shows us just how important it is that we get the services that keep our communities safe absolutely right, whatever the cost.

Locally, we await an internal review to know what more could have been done in that tragic incident.

But nationally, the lessons are already clear.

Decisions made by Ministers on public services should be evidence led, not ideologically driven.

When the safety of residents here in Barnsley and across the country is at stake, choices should be taken in the public interest, not private profit.

Sadly, the failing probation service under this Government will always serve as a stark reminder of what happens when this principle is ignored.