Prisons and Probation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:58 pm on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice 12:58 pm, 14th May 2019

My hon. Friend is right to be a passionate advocate of the important work, done in difficult circumstances, by our probation workers. They need to be valued more. Their importance in our justice system needs to be more fully recognised by this Government. Ending the part-privatisation of probation would be one way of doing that. What was an award-winning service is now fragmented and damaged. The level of serious reoffending has soared, supervision is seriously overstretched and hundreds of millions of pounds have been wasted in bailing out a broken system.

The National Audit Office, parliamentary Committees, the chief inspector of probation, trade unions and many more have all condemned this botched probation privatisation programme. Indeed, the chief inspector, in this year’s annual report, labelled the system “irredeemably flawed”. She flagged a catalogue of deep-rooted problems, including the number of probation professionals being at a critical level, with too much reliance on unqualified or agency staff; eight out of 10 community rehabilitation companies inspected since January last year being rated as inadequate; more needing to be done to keep victims safe and to safeguard children; and the fact that a lack of judicial confidence in probation and community punishments may be leading to more custodial sentences in cases that are borderline. She concluded that public ownership is a safer option for the core work, while improvements are not likely

“while probation remains subject to the pressures of commerce”.

There is really no need to add to that. The chief inspector has concluded that public ownership is a safer option and said that the fact that probation remains subject to the pressures of commerce means that improvements are not likely.

With private probation contracts now ending two years early, Ministers have the perfect opportunity to listen to the experts, reunify this fractured service and remove the profit motive from probation once and for all. As we have heard, the current Transport Secretary ignored all the warnings from the Labour party and others, including unions, probation trusts and the voluntary sector, of the obvious dangers of privatising probation. It is essential that the current Justice Secretary learns from his Government’s mistakes, but so far the Government have said that they will be renewing the private sector contracts and in a way that appears mainly designed to help the companies become more financially stable.