New reforms will require prisoners serving sentences under 12 months will be forced to undertake a period of rehabilitation with private companies.
As part the justice Secretary’s “rehabilitation revolution”, short prison sentences will include a period of rehabilitation in a bid to curb reoffending.
Under present rules, inmates serving under 12 months only undertake rehab on a voluntary basis and are otherwise released into the community following their sentence.
The new guidelines, outlined by the Ministry of Justice, will require a released prisoner to be met by mentors at the prison gates, who will be provided by private companies in a payment by results scheme but opponents are calling it the demise of public probation in England and Wales.
This means that, although the public sector will still be monitoring the most high risk offenders, which is around 50,000 per year, low and medium risk offenders, around 200,000 prisoners a year, will now be looked after by private companies on a scheme that has not yet been tested.
Currently, those inmates that are put on to a programme when released have shown a significant drop in reoffending rates, so where is the need to scrap this progress and start from scratch with an untested method?
Mr Grayling said :
We know across the public, private and voluntary sectors there is a wealth of expertise and experience – we need to unlock that so we can finally begin to bring down our stubbornly high reoffending rates.
Total spending on prisons and offender management was £4 billion in 2011/12, but Grayling says the economic impact is estimated at closer to £13 billion. He said he wanted to see more competition in probation services and bring in a wider mix of providers to increase efficiency and drive down costs.
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said:
Payment by results in criminal justice is untested, and the Tory-led Government are taking a reckless gamble with public safety.
Pilots were already under way to see if payment by results worked and to ensure any problems were ironed out before being rolled out. The new Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, is demonstrating breathtaking arrogance in choosing to ignore the pilots.
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 said the decision was “astonishing” as the service has received the British Quality Foundation Gold Award for Excellence last year.
He said the claim that high reoffending rates among short-term prisoners was evidence of probation failure was unfounded:
Probation has no statutory responsibility for supervising anybody sentenced to 12 months or less.
Reoffending rates for the individuals that Probation does supervise are much improved; those who participate in programmes have a reoffending rate now of 35%. This is a success story that the government should be building on, not destroying.
It is being rushed through without proper thought to the consequences. It will be chaotic and will compromise public protection.
Unison national officer for probation staff Ben Priestley said the plans will dismantle the 105-year-old probation service in “one fell swoop”:
We support the ambition of the Justice Secretary to revolutionise rehabilitation, but he is dangerously misguided in his approach.
The final reforms will be set out in spring this year and will be implemented across England and Wales by spring 2015.