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Probation Service (Low and Medium-risk Offenders)

Volume 558: debated on Tuesday 5 February 2013

2. What assessment his Department has made of the effect of his proposals for the probation service on low and medium-risk offenders. (141241)

The proposals in our “Transforming justice” consultation paper are designed to deliver a criminal justice system that punishes offenders properly and helps them to get their lives back on track. We want providers of rehabilitation services to tackle the root causes of offending, and to ensure that they have the right package of support to help offenders to turn their lives around. We will announce further details of our proposals once we have considered the responses to the consultation.

Lower-risk, profitable components of the probation service are to be handed to the private sector. Yet again, the Government are simply putting public money into deep private pockets and bringing additional costs into the system. Given the year-by-year decline in reoffending, why are they intent on unleashing a potentially risky and certainly costly upheaval of the existing system, rather than investing to improve it?

The first point to make is that we do not think that what we propose will be more expensive than the current arrangements. Quite the reverse: we think that it will save the taxpayer money. The second point is that we intend to bring in good ideas from not just the private sector but the voluntary sector, so that we can start to drive down those all-important reoffending rates. The argument for opening up rehabilitation to other agencies, private and voluntary, was advanced by the last Labour Government during the passage of the Offender Management Act 2007: we are simply implementing their idea. However, I note that the hon. Gentleman was not persuaded on that occasion either.

Will my hon. Friend assure us that providers will be commissioned to tackle the root causes of reoffending, and that they will help offenders to turn their lives around by, for example, providing mentors and signposts to employment training opportunities, as well as mental health and anti-addiction services?

There are many reasons why someone might be leading a chaotic lifestyle, and if we really want to get to the bottom of reoffending and to turn lives around, we need to address them. My hon. Friend is right to focus on addiction, and he is also right to focus on employment. We know that one of the most effective ways of rehabilitating people is to get them into work, and that is certainly the sort of thing that we expect providers to do under the new system.

May I ask the Minister about community sentences? If an individual has not performed as he or she should, who will assess, against the usual criteria, whether there has been an actionable breach? Will it be an inexperienced privateer, or will it be a fully qualified probation officer—who, incidentally, will have had no previous contact with the individual concerned?

The straight answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that a public sector probation officer will make the judgment on whether a breach should be subject to action. Those providing interventions will be obliged to supply information about what has happened, but the judgment will be made by the probation officer.

The hon. Gentleman ought to recognise that, in a great many cases, a large number of the interventions provided for those who have been sentenced under community orders are made by the voluntary sector. It is not true that probation officers currently do everything themselves, and the flow of information between them and those who do is generally very good.