Government should scrap plan for private companies to supervise criminals

MP John Healey has called on the government to scrap its “reckless” plans to privatise most of the probation service.

Speaking during a debate in the House of Commons yesterday, he said the proposals would put public safety at risk.

The MP for Wentworth & Dearne said: “There has been no testing, no costing, no evidence to support such sweeping changes and no backing from any serious professional probation voices.”

He quoted a Rotherham probation officer who told him “the job is one of constant juggling demands brought about by working with individuals who lead often chaotic lives.”

Mr Healey said: “Probation officers deal with people who are often chaotic, volatile and vulnerable and whose lives are constantly shifting; and these probation officers constantly have to juggle their priorities.

“Staff of private companies will not go that extra mile, but will be under pressure to do the bare minimum.”

He said the Government had an “obsession with the market, competition and privatisation” and the purpose of their Rehabilitation of Offenders Bill – which would see 70 per cent of offenders supervised by private companies – was privatisation, not a better service or better protection.

The plans would see nearly 5,000 criminals in South Yorkshire – including serious sexual and violent offenders – being supervised by companies like G4S and Serco after leaving prison, rather than qualified probation officers.

Under the existing probation trusts, reoffending rates have been falling for 13 years, savings of 20 per cent have been made while crime rates have reduced and the public protected.

All 35 probation trusts in England and Wales have been judged good or excellent and South Yorkshire is one of the best-performing in the country.

The government say they want the Bill to extend supervision to offenders who have been in prison for less than a year – but Probation trusts have offered to take on this extra work for free.

Mr Healey concluded: “Common sense says: pilot these changes, pilot the provisions in the Bill and pull the proposed privatisation programme.

“To do otherwise would run a reckless risk with the lives of vulnerable offenders to whom we owe a duty of supervision, and a reckless risk with the safety of the public.”

The MP has also written to the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, urging him to drop his plans.