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Probation Service

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 13th December 2005.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby 9:30 am, 13th December 2005

I am grateful to have the opportunity to talk about the future of the probation service. I am not only a strong supporter but a big admirer of it for the difficult work that it does. It has a key role in what the Government describe as the fight against crime, and in building a better society, by working to redeem offenders, to support them so that they do not slip back into the habit offending, and working to sustain former prisoners and offenders as they adjust to society. It is only that adjustment that will stop them reoffending.

The probation service is overstretched, and in my view the staff are underpaid. There are probably 200,000 offenders, a total that is increasing, but the service is ever more successful and effective in dealing with that number. Indeed, over the last few years it has coped with the many new duties that have been thrust upon it—custody plus for instance, introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2003—all of which has produced what the Home Office estimates will be a 70,000 increase in its case load.

Last year, the probation service supervised 12,600 high-risk offenders. Only 79 of them—0.6 per cent.—had reoffended by the end of that supervision. Its breach targets have been achieved in 92 per cent. of cases, and eight out of 10 supervisory periods have been sustained for six months or more. In other words, it is doing a very good job. It was helped by the reorganisation of 2001, which created a national service. That good reform is working well, and I ask the Minister to tell us why it is now being scrapped. What evaluation has been done of that successful reform? The probation service has adjusted to it, and is working successfully, yet it now has to face another change.