Probation reform 'train crash poses a risk to public safety'

Chaos means that hundreds of danger assessments are not being carried out on criminal offenders

Hundreds of criminal offenders across the country have not seen a probation officer for weeks, amid warnings from senior politicians that the coalition’s reforms are a “train crash” that pose “a risk to public safety”. The probation service has descended into chaos since it was reorganised at the start of last month in preparation for handing 70 per cent of the service’s management to the private sector, according to Westminster and union sources.

Experts say the crisis has deepened since The Independent on Sunday revealed last month that computer failures have led to thousands of offenders’ case files being lost, frozen or wiped since IT changes were introduced on 2 June. This has resulted in huge backlogs of work and even in offenders being turned away from community service.

Many probation officers are now reporting serious instances of strain or illness caused by overwork, while at the start of last week as many as 500 were estimated to have not received proper pay. More disturbingly, hundreds of examples are emerging of people on probation who have not been assigned an officer, meaning that they are walking free without any assessments on whether they pose an increased risk to the public since sentencing. One source suggested as many as 2,500 offenders could be without a probation officer.

In a briefing to MPs, Napo, the probation officers’ union, said it had found 60 domestic violence cases “left in a cupboard with no offender manager” in the North Yorkshire region. A further 50, with at least one high-risk offender, have not been allocated in the South-west, while 291 cases in the South Yorkshire area have been passed to an officer “in name only”.

Particularly problematic have been moves to divide the service in two, the report claims. High-risk offender files go to the National Probation Service, which will remain in state hands, and the rest go to community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) soon to be run by the private sector.

In the Warwickshire and West Mercia area, the union says there is evidence that high-risk sex-offender cases have been incorrectly sent to the CRCs. IT restrictions introduced last month mean that tutors running sex-offender rehabilitation programmes cannot access individual files when they are with CRCs.

The Napo briefing recommends that MPs on the Justice Select Committee ask the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, how rapidly the issues will be resolved and who is accountable if further serious offences occur in the meantime. It concludes: “Why has this situation been allowed to happen?”

By coincidence, Mr Grayling faces wider questioning about his role, on Wednesday. Elfyn Llwyd, a Plaid Cymru MP and member of the committee, says he plans to raise the probation issues at the hearing. “The most worrying feature of all this is that it was entirely predictable,” said Mr Llwyd. “This is definitely a train crash in the making and is a risk to public safety. In fact, we’re about at that point now – this is a privatisation too far.”

The unions have found around 500 examples of where officers have not been paid properly since the service was divided. Issues include not being paid for unsociable hours, which form a large slice of a probation officer’s salary which can be as low as £22,000, and pension contributions taken even if the officers have opted out of the scheme.

Tania Bassett, a Napo official and former probation officer, said: “Supervision is a critical part of risk management. It enables officers to discuss a person’s circumstances and any changes that might be a risk trigger, such as increased alcohol use.

“Without it, huge amounts of work and information gathering isn’t done and the person is just being left to continue their behaviour. This might mean they could be living with their victim and no one would know, or having contact with children when they pose a risk.”

Mr Grayling believes that transforming 35 probation trusts into 21 CRCs run by the private sector will result in a more efficient and less costly service. Private-sector contractors and mutual companies formed by probation officers will be selected as preferred bidders for the £800m-a-year contracts by the end of 2014.

The shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, said: “The chaos caused by the Government’s reckless privatisation of probation is getting worse by the week, and still ministers are in denial about how bad things are getting. David Cameron needs to intervene personally and halt immediately Chris Grayling’s crazy plans before someone gets hurt.”

A MoJ spokesman said: “With any  change of this scale, it is normal to experience some issues, which is why we prepared so extensively for it. The vast majority of staff were paid without issue. We are implementing these reforms in a controlled and measured way. We will not take risks with public safety.”

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Arts and Entertainment
Shelley Duvall stars in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
filmCritic Kaleem Aftab picks his favourites for Halloween
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballBeating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Life and Style
Google's doodle celebrating Halloween 2014
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes