Probation Reform - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:31 pm on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Co-Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers 2:31 pm, 16th May 2019

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. All of us think that it has been a long time coming and it is right that we should broadly welcome the thrust of the Government’s intention to reorganise this service.

I take our share of the blame as part of the coalition Government, during which we supported some of the reforms of the National Probation Service in 2014. Some of the principles of these reforms were very sound when they were introduced. It was right that supervision was available for at least the first year when inmates leave prison. It was important to provide through-the-gate services, so that people can have a place to live as well as continuity of training and treatment between prison and the community. To do all this, it was vital that voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice field were fully involved.

Mr Grayling has bungled and underfunded contracts so badly that his reforms failed to achieve these objectives. No wonder it is estimated that these botched reforms have cost the taxpayer more than £500 million, according to the National Audit Office. He is the most unfortunate Minister whose record is dismal, and it is a surprise that he has lasted so long, even at the Department for Transport at this stage.

We need some guarantees to ensure that the probation service is not let down again. Who is examining the existing case load of probation officers? What further resources are available to make them more effective? Is there any way of tying probation resources to the rise in the number of prisoners in our establishments? Is there some way of ensuring that more incarceration of prisoners will effectively mean more work for the probation service? A good many well-trained but disillusioned probation officers have left the service in the last few years. What is being done to bring them back into probation work?

The Minister has just announced a new targeted innovation fund. What share will voluntary organisations have in such funds in order to make the probation service more effective? The new targeted innovation fund ought to make sure that such organisations are not locked out. Of course reforms are necessary, but we should never lose sight of the fact that when the state incarcerates prisoners, it takes full responsibility for each individual. We would do well, in very difficult times, to say to ourselves that if we lose that responsibility we will lose control of our criminal justice system.