Probation is re-nationalised

As the Justice Secretary announces an end to the Transforming Rehabilitation programme Work with Offenders delves into the detail

Today will go down as an important day in the history of the probation service. At noon, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland announced the end of the government’s badly flawed Transforming Rehabilitation programme which brought in the most radical redesign of the probation service in its entire history in 2014.

Attributing the change in the MoJ’s plan to COVID-19, he said that offender management will return to the National Probation Service in June 2021 and that the planned outsourcing of unpaid work and accredited programmes to the private sector will be cancelled with responsibility for these also returned to the public probation service.

Staff currently working for Community Rehabilitation Companies will be able to transfer either to the NPS or to organisations delivering resettlement services via the Dynamic Framework.

The Justice Secretary said that there will remain a role for the voluntary and private sectors in delivering rehabilitative services under the Dynamic Purchasing Framework. The Dynamic Framework will be opened for registration in the “coming days”.

There has long been a consensus that the Transforming Rehabilitation programme launched and driven through by Chris Grayling when he was Justice Secretary was deeply flawed. Commentators agree that the reforms, principally driven by a desire to privatise the service, resulted in a fragmented system with the new private providers underperforming badly – not least because the contracts themselves were significantly underfunded.

David Lammy, the Shadow Justice Secretary, applauded the government’s decision but was openly sceptical of its claim that the need for a stable service in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic was the main driver for the change in direction. Mr Lammy chose to see the decision as an acknowledgement of a long series of failures in government privatisation projects, citing school dinners and rising obesity among other examples.

It was in July 2018 that the MoJ announced its decision to cut short the contracts of the private Community Rehabilitation Companies and re-model probation although it also said it intended to keep the public/private split with CRCs continuing to supervise low- and medium-risk offenders. Under pressure from Chief Probation Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey, the Public Accounts and Justice Committees and the National Audit Office, the MoJ changed its mind in May 2019 and decided that the National Probation Service would be responsible for all offender management with the CRC successor organisations (renamed as Probation Delivery Partners) able to bid to deliver unpaid work and accredited programmes.

The MoJ has now changed its mind again and returned to a wholly public sector probation service, making many probation officers and its partner organisations wonder about the purpose of the massive disruption of the last seven years.