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Probation System

Volume 547: debated on Tuesday 3 July 2012

On 27 March, in the consultation document “Punishment and Reform: Effective Probation Services”, the Government published proposals to deliver more effective and efficient probation services. Alongside that, we published proposals to deliver more credible and effective community sentences. We are currently considering the responses to the consultation, which closed on 22 June. We intend to publish the Government response later in the year.

I thank the Secretary of State for his response. Under a marketisation of the probation service, how can he assure the House that fragmentation of the service will not put the public at risk? What safeguards are in place to ensure that cherry-picking by private sector providers of individuals on probation does not occur?

I am somewhat astonished by the reaction of some Opposition Members. We are following the policy first laid out in the Offender Management Act 2007. The probation trusts have now all been set up and we are introducing principles to bring some competition and diversity of provider. There are very good people who can provide some aspects of the probation service. We believe that that will both enhance the quality of the service and achieve better value for money and better outcomes. Plenty of people in the probation service welcome our proposals; indeed, some are surprised by their modesty.

At a recent multi-agency public protection arrangements, or MAPPA, meeting that I sat in on, a probation officer reported that his client was having problems meeting a curfew of 7 o’clock at night. When the officer was asked what he was doing to deal with the curfew’s being breached, he said that he had changed the curfew to 9 o’clock to aid compliance. Will the Secretary of State tell me what he is going to do to stop such outrages, which make a complete mockery of the probation system and the criminal justice system?

I cannot comment on an individual case, although I am sure that my hon. Friend did when he had the pleasure of listening to that exchange. We are seeking to make both the probation service and community sentences more effective, by which I mean more punitive when necessary but also more effective in controlling the behaviour of the offender.

We have taken powers to extend the hours of curfew. We intend to make more use of tagging to enforce curfews, among other things. We are testing more effective equipment and consulting on how best to use tags and modern technology effectively.

I shall try to stun you, Mr Speaker.

The Secretary of State knows that the relationship between probation officer and offender is crucial to the rehabilitation process. How will he assure the House that opening up to the private sector will not undermine that crucial relationship?

In all these things, I take the view that the status of the person involved—whether they are classified as public sector or private sector, or who exactly they work for or which union they belong to—is a slightly subordinate issue. This is a rather sterile debate of a few decades ago about whether there should be private sector or public sector provision. What matters is the quality of what is done, the quality of the person, the relationships they develop, and what is available to them to make a community sentence more effective.