Government Committed to Private Companies Running Probation – As Largest Provider Teeters on Collapse on Friday

Justice Secretary David Gauke.

Justice Secretary David Gauke says he will not bring supervision of offenders back into the public sector, despite widely condemned reforms of the probation service.

The Government is committed to using private companies to deliver probation, it has said, despite the largest provider of the service being on the brink of collapse on Friday.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Justice Secretary David Gauke said “there is a place for the private sector” in delivering probation – the service charged with monitoring offenders released from prison and those serving community sentences.

The service was controversially split by Chris Grayling in 2014 so that low and medium-risk offenders are now managed by private community rehabilitation companies (CRCs), while high-risk individuals continue to be monitored by probation workers in the public sector. The reforms have been widely condemned.

Interserve currently runs CRCs that supervise 40,000 offenders in England and Wales. If its shareholders fail to reach a resolution on Friday, it is likely that the company’s lenders will begin administration proceedings.

It would be the second private provider of probation services to fall this year – the first was Working Links.

Although a Government review of the future of probation is underway, Mr Gauke’s comments suggest that the private sector is here to stay.

The Ministry of Justice set itself up to fail in how it approached probation reforms. Its rushed roll-out created significant risks that it was unable to manage.

National Audit Office

“It is important that this continues to be a mixed market,” he said. “There is a place for the private sector and the voluntary sector, as well as for the public sector, in probation.

“The debate can sometimes be a little simplistic, whether it is ‘public sector good, private sector bad’ or vice versa.

“A lot of this is about integration and making services hang together.”

Replying to Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon’s calls for the entire probation service to be brought back into public sector, Mr Gauke said this approach “will not get the best probation service we could have”.

Private companies were originally handed probation contracts with the aim of driving innovation and efficiency in the service, working to reduce reoffending through ‘payment by results’. In reality, this has not been the case.

Since Chris Grayling’s reforms were introduced, the number of serious further offences (SFOs) – crimes such as rape and murder – committed by those being supervised by probation have been on the rise.

In 2017-18, 242 offenders were charged with a SFO – a 39% increase since 2013-14 and the highest figure in the past nine years, according to the latest official figures.

Earlier this month, a report by the National Audit Office said that the Ministry of Justice had “set itself up to fail” with the reforms.