Government proposals to hand over the management and supervision of the vast majority of offenders to private or voluntary sector organisations would mean ‘taking major risks with public safety.’
That is the stark warning from Cleveland’s Police Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger in response to plans which would see contracts awarded nationally for the handling of so-called low and medium risk offenders, with the public Probation Service retaining direct management responsibility for only a small number of those posing the highest risk.
In a response to the plans put forward by the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling the Commissioner says that in reality a range of serious cases—such as child protection, domestic abuse, mental health and substance misuse—would be managed by the private sector.
He also points out that the proposed system of awarding contracts would threaten many existing local partnerships—and run counter to the Government’s stated aim of Police and Crime Commissioners playing a central role in co-ordinating local services.
Said Barry Coppinger “There are some things to welcome in these proposals—for instance improved support for those released from short-term prison sentences—but in the main they are ill-considered and ill-constructed…and appear to be based on a dogmatic view that the private sector can always do things better. I do not believe that this is the right approach when it comes to managing offenders in the community and recent experience—for example the G4S contract for Olympics security—certainly does not give confidence that they could do it better than the existing probation service which is highly regarded across the world.
“Our local Durham Tees Valley Probation Trust, which has recently been identified as one of the best performing in the country, has estimated that the impact of these proposals would mean them retaining direct responsibility for just five per cent of those given community sentences and 13 per cent of offenders released from prison.
“I cannot believe that the prospect of major national companies, with no track record in this work and no local accountability, managing literally thousands of offenders across the area is something most people would welcome…and I do believe that there are serious implications for public safety.
“For example the definitions of low, medium and high risk can be misleading—in reality a range of serious offenders would come under private sector management and supervision. The proposals also fail to recognise that offenders can move between different categories—for example from medium to high risk. Fragmenting the system in the way proposed would inevitably increase the risks of delays and mistakes…again with potentially dangerous consequences.
“What I find particularly flawed about these proposals is that they fly completely in the face of the Government’s general ‘localism’ agenda and in particularly in their decision to introduce Police and Crime Commissioners with a specific task of improving co-ordination between agencies at the local level.
“How on earth this would be possible with a system in which contracts would be awarded nationally, based on large areas which simply do not align with police or local authority boundaries, is beyond me. I believe this a recipe for confusion and conflict—and I believe protecting the public is far too important for that to happen.
“In order to maintain continuity and the principles of local solutions, local commissioning and local accountability for the future, there is a growing view that Police and Crime Commissioners should be given responsibility for commissioning services for the management of offenders. That view was expressed last week amongst Commissioners from across the political spectrum at their national association meeting and is gaining support amongst local agencies and MPs.”
Details of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s response to the consultation over the Government proposals can be found on the PCC's website.
Posted on Thursday 7th March 2013