Probation cuts will fuel crime, say chief officers

Chief probation officers yesterday accused the Government of "hypocritical concern" for re-offending by paedophiles and other criminals following their release from prison.

The charge followed disclosure by the Association of Chief Officers of Probation that 100 probation officers' posts in prisons - 15 per cent of the 640 total - are to be axed in Home Office spending cuts this year.

"Home Office ministers have made enormous play over the past few months over their plans to create a register of convicted paedophiles, yet they are quite ready to sanction cuts which will damage the integrity and safety of the parole system," said Jenny Roberts, chair of the Association's Throughcare Committee.

Probation officers are aghast at the scale of prison service cutbacks, which they say will curtail or end a wide range of programmes designed to challenge offending behaviour and prepare inmates for resettlement. "The cuts will damage the integrity and safety of the parole system," added Ms Roberts.

The association fears that cuts in the prison probation service could be "roughly of the same order" next year, as 28 posts have already been earmarked for economies. More than 300 teaching posts will also go this year from the prison educational programme.

The protest came amid sharp criticism from civil liberties groups over plans to give employers access to the criminal records of job applicants. Paul Cavadino, chairman of the Penal Affairs Consortium, said the Government should rethink its requirement for job seekers to declare spent or irrelevant convictions. "It is not a good thing if somebody is denied a job on the basis of convictions which have no relevance to the job for which they are applying," he said.

Under the provisions of a White Paper to be published by Home Secretary Michael Howard next month, employers would be entitled to require from job applicants a certificate saying whether they have any criminal convictions.

The scheme means people applying for jobs as diverse as doctors and lottery ticket sellers will undergo stringent checks, with those wanting to work with children or the elderly subjected to a more comprehensive investigation via the central police computer.

Alex Carlile, home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, condemned the plan, saying: "The Home Secretary is playing cynical political games with criminal records, trying the language of repression to win votes. The leaked proposals have nothing to do with preventing crime, and everything to do with his distorted view of what wins votes at elections."

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