Private firms top probation bidders

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Published: Wednesday 29th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Two giant private firms are to be awarded a share of more than half of new Government contracts for supervising criminals in the community.

Sodexo Justice Services, part of the 11.7 billion euro (£9.2 billion) Sodexo group, has been named preferred bidder with charity Nacro for running probation services in six areas in England and Wales, while a partnership led by £850 million firm Interserve has been named for five other regions.

Geo Group UK, part of the multibillion-dollar Geo Group Inc, and multinational subsidiary Ingeus UK have also taken a share of a further two contracts.

Contracts have been split across so-called community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) in 20 English regions and one Welsh region, while the National Probation Service (NPS), a new public sector organisation, has been formed to deal with high-risk offenders.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the changes would “redouble” efforts to bring down reoffending and stop people from becoming victims of crime.

But probation workers hit out at Mr Grayling for “pressing ahead with untried and untested” reforms.

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) union, which has been on strike twice in the last 12 months in opposition to the outsourcing plans, said: “It is purely ideological that Grayling is pressing ahead with his untried and untested so-called reforms to probation.

“We have mounting evidence that neither the CRCs nor the National Probation Service is stable at the moment and this is having a direct impact on the supervision of offenders and public safety.”

A package of £450 million worth of probation contracts was offered to private and voluntary-sector organisations, covering the supervision of 200,000 low and medium-risk offenders each year on a payment-by-results basis.

Twenty of the 21 contract areas will be led by new partnerships and joint ventures between private sector firms and rehabilitation charities. Kent, Surrey and Sussex is the only region to go to a single bidder.

Half of the partnerships chosen as preferred bidders also include “mutual” organisations set up by current probation staff to take over their own organisations.

The complete list of preferred bidders includes 16 charities and voluntary organisations, four probation staff mutuals and seven private companies.

The Justice Secretary said: “We cannot go on with a situation where thousands of prisoners are released onto the streets every year with no guidance or support, and are simply left to reoffend. These reforms will transform the way in which we tackle reoffending.”

He added: “This new approach will not just redouble our efforts to bring down reoffending. It will also prevent many more people from becoming victims of crime in the future.”

Earlier this year, the influential Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warned the probation reforms, which will also see prisoners serving less than 12 months receive rehabilitation for the first time, were ”complex and untested”.

A pilot of a payment-by-results scheme at HMP Peterborough earlier this year failed to hit its first target to reduce re-offending among 1,000 prisoners by 10%, although it was on course to meet a second target of slashing reoffending by 7.5% across a batch of 2,000 inmates.

Another pilot – at HMP Doncaster – surpassed its target of reducing its re-offending measure by 5%.

In addition to the preferred bidders, almost 1,000 organisations, including 700 listed as voluntary, community or social enterprise, have put themselves forward to work with the chosen providers.

The preferred bidder status of the companies listed above means that these are now the only suppliers with whom MoJ is in talks to arrange the contracts.

Providers are expected to be in place and delivering services early next year, after final contracts have been signed.

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: “David Cameron’s Government is putting companies with little or no track record in criminal justice in charge of dangerous and violent offenders.

“There’s been no testing or piloting to see if this will work and won’t put the public’s safety at risk, and all of the concerns of Labour, experts and probation staff have been swatted away.”

Frances Crook, chief executive of the charity the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: ” As we expected, the big winner of the probation sell-off is not the voluntary sector but large private companies run for profit.

“The Ministry of Justice will claim it has created a diverse market, but Sodexo and Interserve are the companies running half of all the contracts.

“A public service is being destroyed without any evidence that the fragmented landscape created will perform any better or help make communities any safer.”

Published: Wednesday 29th October 2014 by The News Editor

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