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22.01.14

‘Lack of information’ on probation reforms – MPs

MPs have raised concerns about the government’s implementation plans for probation reform, which will see services for low and high-risk offenders split between new private providers and the National Probation Service.

The justice select committee has published its report on crime reduction policies, investigating the risks involved in the proposed new system.

The proposals would “radically change” the probation system, the committee warned. They highlighted risks involved in the scale, architecture, detail and consequences of the reform, as well as the pace of implementation and the lack of testing.

Payment by results is also likely to require modification, the report states.

Sir Alan Beith MP, chair of the committee, said: “There is a lack of information both about the risks they might encounter during implementation and the steps that they will take to mitigate those risks. They also do not appear to have devised clear contingency plans in the event that the competition fails to yield a viable new provider for a particular area, or that a new provider subsequently fails.

“In such circumstances, it is not clear whether the Government will be able to implement or retain the supervision of short-sentenced prisoners, or whether this element of the programme is contingent on having a complete system in place.

“The ministry has high expectations of what can be achieved in the way of efficiency savings and extension of services through contracting out the management of low and medium risk offenders within existing resources. We would have liked to examine the affordability of the reforms, the initial costs of which are likely to be considerable but which might, over the longer-term, lessen as demand on the system falls, but the information the Government has provided is too limited for us to do this.

“This raises the question of whether this important assessment has been adequately carried out. Furthermore, a key question for the Government is how the focus on reducing reoffending will be maintained during the period when the restructuring of the market that is necessary to create the desired efficiencies takes place.”

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