UK

Probation service private bidders named

Prison interior
Image caption Prisoners who have served less than 12 months have the highest reoffending rates

Ministers have named the private firms they expect to take on the probation service's role monitoring thousands of offenders in England and Wales.

The government's plan will see 21 trusts of companies and charities managing criminals from next year.

The probation union Napo says it's outraged by the outsourcing, predicting chaos and risks to public safety.

But Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said legal threats by the union would not derail the process.

Under the Ministry of Justice's plans, new probation trusts will supervise 200,000 low and medium risk offenders, including 45,000 short-sentence prisoners who currently do not receive any probation monitoring. The contracts are worth around £450m a year over seven years.

At the moment, almost six out of 10 of them reoffend within a year and ministers believe support offered by the new organisations, most of which are partnerships between private companies and charities, will turn more offenders away from a life of crime.

Six of the 21 partnerships announced by the ministry involve crime reduction charity Nacro and Sodexo, a French conglomerate that says it delivers "quality of life services" through almost 500,000 employees in 80 countries.

Interserve, a support services business, is the lead company in five of the largest partnerships. Nationwide, 16 charities are part of the partnerships, alongside four organisations formed by current probation staff.

In each of the 21 areas, ministers say that the partnerships - known as Community Rehabilitation Companies (or CRCs) - will work with low and medium risk offenders for a year after they leave jail to try to stabilise their lives and help to prevent them from reoffending.

The probation service, split earlier this year in preparation for the new system, will continue to supervise high risk ex-offenders.

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Community Rehabilitation Companies: 21 Partnerships in detail

  • Bidding for six contracts - Sodexo Justice Services and rehabilitation charity Nacro (Northumbria, Cumbria & Lancs; S Yorks, Beds, Northants, Cambs and Herts; Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk)
  • Bidding for five: Purple Futures: Interserve PLC, social enterprise 3SC and charities Addaction, P3 and Shelter (Humberside, Lincs and N Yorks; W Yorks, Cheshire & Greater Manchester; Merseyside; Hants and Isle of Wight)
  • Achieving Real Change in Communities: Joint venture including probation staff, housing association charities, NHS and local councils (Durham and Tees Valley)
  • Bidding for two: The Reducing Reoffending Partnership: Joint venture including Ingeus UK, and charities St Giles Trust and Crime Reduction Initiatives (Staffs and W Midlands; Derbyshire, Leics, Notts and Rutland)
  • Bidding for three: Working Links: Public-private-voluntary partnership including probation staff mutual company (Wales, Bristol, Glos, Somerset and Wiltshire; Dorset, Devon & Cornwall)
  • Geo Mercia Willowdene: Joint venture involving probation staff, social enterprise and Geo Group UK (Warks and W Mercia)
  • Bidding for two: MTCNovo: Joint venture including companies MTC and Amey, probation staff, two charities, social landlord and a college (Thames Valley and London)
  • Seetec: A business providing welfare to work schemes (Kent, Surrey and Sussex)
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Image copyright PA
Image caption Chris Grayling: Says the changes will help combat reoffending

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the reforms aim to change lives.

"We cannot go on with a situation where thousands of prisoners are released onto the streets every year with no guidance or support, and are simply left to reoffend," he said.

"These reforms will transform the way in which we tackle reoffending. This announcement brings together the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors to set up our battle against reoffending, and to bring innovative new ways of working with offenders."

But probation service union Napo, which has gone on strike twice this year, said that a sell-off isn't safe.

Ian Lawrence, Napo's general secretary said: "It is purely ideological that Grayling is pressing ahead with his untried and untested so-called reforms to probation.

"We have mounting evidence that neither the CRCs or the National Probation Service is stable at the moment and this is having a direct impact on the supervision of offenders and public safety.

"We would urge MPs to ask questions of him and to hold him to account for his decision to press ahead without providing evidence that it is safe to do so."

Napo has been considering launching legal action to stop the reforms and is expected to announce its decision on Thursday. Responding to warnings by Napo that it will judicially review his plans, Mr Grayling told BBC News: "I don't think they have a basis [for a challenge]."

But shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said "David Cameron's Government is putting companies with little or no track record in criminal justice in charge of dangerous and violent offenders. There's been no testing or piloting to see if this will work and won't put the public's safety at risk, and all of the concerns of Labour, experts and probation staff have been swatted away."

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