Probation chiefs in stark warning over funding

Rob Preece Crime Correspondent

SAVAGE cuts in public spending will make it harder for Yorkshire’s probation officers to improve on their performance last year, when the number of offenders who returned to a life of crime fell sharply.

Adult reoffending rates dropped by eight per cent across the region during 2009, with two of Yorkshire’s largest cities, Bradford and Sheffield, recording impressive results well beyond Government expectations. Yorkshire was the best-performing region in England and Wales, according to figures published by the Ministry of Justice.

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Probation chiefs say the results prove they can save the taxpayer money by cutting crime – but only if Ministers agree to properly fund frontline services.

The chief executive of South Yorkshire Probation Trust, Roz Brown, said: “Here in South Yorkshire, the reduction in offending is close to 14 per cent, which is one of the best in the country.

“That is reflected in a reduction in crime. If there were only one victim of every crime – and there is usually more than one – we would have 17,000 fewer victims of crime this year than there were last year in South Yorkshire.

“Having 17,000 fewer crimes saves an awful lot of money. What we must do now is identify those offenders who are likely to carry on offending.

“We have a caseload in the community of about 5,000, but we have identified the four per cent of that caseload who cause the most damage in terms of reoffending.

“If we are facing huge cuts, what I would hope is that the Government would remove the bureaucracy which means we cannot put all our resources into that four per cent.”

The operations director of West Yorkshire Probation Trust, Mark Siddall, said it was targeting the 10 per cent of criminals who were responsible for 60 per cent of all crimes.

“Of the biggest five metropolitan areas in the country, we have consistently achieved the best reoffending rates and we are anxious to preserve that,” he said.

“For that reason I am confident that we are not just going to cut. I am clear that we will want to expand some areas of our business.

“We cannot continue as we are with a 25 per cent cut.”

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has announced plans to reduce the prison population by making more criminals subject to community orders, and to ask the probation service to work with voluntary organisations and private firms who will be paid by results if they help keep offenders out of jail.

Probation officers in West Yorkshire currently monitor 13,700 cases – a seven per cent rise in workload since June 2009, caused mainly by Crown Court judges’ increased use of community orders.

Mr Siddall said: “The community orders are at least 10 times cheaper than sending someone to prison and they result in far fewer victims of crime – almost half the number.

“The direction of travel proposed by Ken Clarke is absolutely right and there is a lot of research to support it.

“I suppose the ideal scenario is that money is transferred from prisons into community orders so we can shut down prison wings and eventually shut down entire prisons.”