Government plans to hand over the management of offenders to private firms risk compromising public safety, the Chief Inspector of Probation warned today.
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke's proposals to allow private firms to compete for the management of low-risk offenders could fragment the system which ensures sentences are delivered effectively, Liz Calderbank said.
She called for Mr Clarke to rethink his plans, saying that the management of all offenders should be kept within the probation service.
"These proposals could, in our view, compromise public safety if implemented as outlined in the review," she said in the inspectorate's response to the Ministry of Justice consultation.
"We believe that it is in the public interest for offender management to remain the remit of probation trusts within the public sector.
"Giving responsibility to other providers for offender management would fragment a process that holds the order or licence together and ensures that the sentence is delivered effectively."
Ms Calderbank added that low or medium risk offenders can "present an even greater challenge to the offender manager than their higher risk counterparts" because of the changing nature of the risk they pose.
And contracting out services by the level of risk posed by an offender "could disrupt the overall management of the offender if it leads to a transfer of both offender manager and supervising organisation".
"The proposals have the potential to create perverse incentives to alter - or not alter - the tier/identified level of risk," Ms Calderbank added.
"We therefore recommend considerable caution in taking these proposals forward and suggest that while the supervision requirement on community orders could be contracted out, the offender management role, of assessing, reviewing and coordinating work on all cases, be kept within the probation service."
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "The public consultation, Punishment and reform: effective probation services, closed on June 22 2012.
"We are currently considering the replies and will publish our response to the consultation in due course.
"Our top priority is public protection. In developing these proposals, that has always been the key consideration."