PLANS to hand over the rehabilitation of more than 17,000 offenders in Yorkshire and the Humber to the private sector and voluntary organisations have been described as “reckless and potentially dangerous” by one of the region’s crime commissioners.
Shaun Wright, who was elected as police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire in November, said the Government’s reforms to the probation service were “playing fast and loose with public safety”.
The changes announced by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling last month will see private firms and charities rewarded on a “payment by results” basis on their work with medium and low-risk offenders.
It means all probation work not relating to the 30 per cent of highest-risk offenders will be taken away from the public sector.
All offenders who enter prison will also now be subject to a new year-long supervision when they leave.
Mr Wright, a former Labour councillor in Rotherham, said: “To implement such a scheme, without testing it first, demonstrates where their priorities lie, and it’s not with the public.
“This is all about giving lucrative contracts to private companies; we will see more work being given to companies like G4S, despite their woeful Olympics record.
“They would be dealing with some of the most dangerous criminals, who have committed serious and violent crimes such as robbery, burglary and sex offences. Where is the public accountability?”
Mr Grayling says the reforms will “put a stopper in the revolving door of the justice system” and tackle the high re-offending rates which have “dogged successive governments for decades”.
As part of the scheme all offenders who go to prison will be given supervision and extra support through housing, employment and training programmes.
Offenders serving short-term custodial sentences have until now not been given any formal supervision after leaving prison.
There are 24,500 offenders on the caseload of probation workers in Yorkshire and the Humber, though the proposed changes mean 17,000 will transfer to the new providers.
A further 3,800 cases are expected to come into the system because of the new supervision being given to those serving short-term prison sentences.
The move means an uncertain future for hundreds of probation workers in the region who will be transferred to private providers.
Mr Wright said he had met local probation officers in South Yorkshire since being elected and was concerned about the impact the Government’s proposed changes will have on the service in the county.
He said: “South Yorkshire Probation Trust is already doing a fantastic job in helping to reduce re-offending, so it is completely bonkers to put that work in jeopardy.”
In response to the criticism, Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: “Last year around 600,000 offences were committed by those who had broken the law before, despite spending £4bn a year on prisons and probation. The system needs urgent reform.
“Our plans will bring together the skills and experience of the public sector, and the innovation and versatility of private and voluntary sector, to help us finally tackle our stubbornly high reoffending rates.”