Probation plan safety fear

Atherton Probation Office, home of Wigan Probation Service and Wigan Community Payback Unit on Gloucester Street, Atherton
Atherton Probation Office, home of Wigan Probation Service and Wigan Community Payback Unit on Gloucester Street, Atherton

WIGAN probation officers are backing a union’s bid for judicial review to halt radical changes.

The National Association of Probation Officers will next Wednesday allege that controversial privatisation of the service directly contributed to the circumstances behind two recent murders.

The union has also written to Justice Secretary Chris Grayling in advance of the Justice Select Committee to highlight its concerns about the “serious risks to public safety” posed by Government proposals to sell off 70 per cent of the service by early next year.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy today joined Wigan NAPO’s calls for an “urgent investigation” to find out if the two murders could have been prevented and whether privatisation was putting lives at risk.

The Shadow Minister for Civil Society said: “A recent survey of probation staff including those at Wigan found that 98 per cent had no confidence in the Justice Secretary or his Transforming Rehabilitation programme. Even his Conservative Party colleague Crispin Blunt thinks these reforms have been a mistake.”

A spokeswoman for Napo’s Wigan branch said there were concerns about “serious risks” to public safety about the plan to sell off 70 per cent of the service, in light of evidence collected by the union and the Ministry of Justice’s own tests disclosed to Napo late last month.

She said: “The MOJ claims the test results must be kept secret. Napo is currently contesting this on the grounds that it is in the public interest that the safety of the proposed sale is known. The union believes failing IT systems, staff shortages and the fact that the reforms have never been piloted will lead to serious further offending, risk issues such as safeguarding children will be missed by overworked staff and the performance of the service will be reduced.”

Under the plan, Community Rehabilitation Companies supervise low and medium-risk offenders. The contracts are said to be worth £450m a year for the next seven years.

The union is concerned CRC staff don’t have full access to offender records to properly assess the risk they pose.

But a MOJ spokesman said it had tested the system changes at every stage, adding: “We will be robustly defending the allegations made by Napo and expect new providers to begin place and delivering services by early 2015. Re-offending rates have been too high for too long and we must act now to turn the tide on this unacceptable behaviour.”