It’s time to bring probation back as a public service, government told

Probation Alliance, including UNISON, writes to justice secretary David Gauke

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UNISON and other key stakeholders on probation are calling on the government to make probation in England and Wales a publicly owned public service when the current contracts of the 21 private ‘community rehabilitation companies’ end next year.

The Probation Alliance made the call in a letter to to justice secretary David Gauke, while also setting out their worries over the “unrealistic” timetable for replacing the current 21 contracts with a smaller number of larger ones, still in the private sector.

The probation service in England and Wales was split in two in 2014 as part of a programme called “transforming rehabilitation” under former justice secretary Chris Grayling.

A National Probation Service continues to deal with those convicted of serious crimes, but the 21 community rehabilitation companies were awarded contracts in 2015 to deal with less serious offenders.
Those contracts were supposed to run until 2022.

However, a report by MPs on the House of Commons justice select committee in July last year called the system a mess. It said the changes had failed and MPs were not convinced private firms could ever deliver effective rehabilitation.

Let’s Fix Probation

UNISON has launched a campaign aimed at reuniting the probation service, privatisation and recreating local probation services managed and democratically accountable at local level.

Find out more about the campaign

On top of that, the companies had made losses and had had to be bailed out by the government.

So the ministry of justice decided to end the contracts in 2020 – two years early – and replace them with 10 new contracts.

But the letter from the Probation Alliance says: “The currently proposed time-frame for reletting the contracts is even shorter than that which attached to the original transforming rehabilitation project.

“It is now widely accepted that the [original] procurement timetable was wholly unrealistic in terms of being able to establish efficient and effective arrangements for the provision of probation services. ”

UNISON national officer Ben Priestley noted that “the community rehabilitation companies have failed to deliver and the privatisation experiment has been widely criticised and discredited.”

“UNISON members have borne the brunt of the failed split and privatisation service.”

The letter to David Gauke was signed by the Probation Institute, UNISON, Napo, the GMB, the Centre for Justice Innovation, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and the Howard League.

Download the full letter