Probation service “must be renationalised”, says Plaid Cymru

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BBC Panorama to expose series of failings since privatisation

Plaid Cymru has called for the probation service to be renationalised, ahead of a BBC Panorama investigation, to be aired tonight, exposing a series of failings since the probation service was partly privatised in 2014.

Two-thirds of the probation service in Wales and England were privatised by the British Government in February 2014, and sold off to the private sector. Offenders classed as either low or medium risk are now supervised by private sector ‘Community Rehabilitation Companies’ (CRCs), with high risk offenders remaining in the National Probation Service.

A Panorama investigation, to be aired tonight (Wednesday 25th October), will expose supervision failures by one of the CRCs which led to the appalling murder of 18-year old, Conner Marshall, 30 months ago. Information was repeatedly withheld from Conner Marshall’s family until finally they were told that the murderer had convictions for assault, domestic violence and possession of drugs. He had missed at least six appointments with his supervisors and had not been taken back to court for failing to attend these meetings, which should have happened.

Following meetings with Conner Marshall’s family, Plaid Cymru MP, Liz Saville Roberts asked numerous questions to the British Government about the performance and effectiveness of the probation service since its privatisation, revealing disturbing failings that have led Plaid Cymru to call for its renationalisation. Many of Ms Saville Roberts’s most critical questions have not been answered, exposing a shocking lack of accountability.

Plaid Cymru has also called for criminal justice to be devolved to Wales, so that the Welsh Government can take control of the probation service in Wales.

Information revealed through Liz's Parliamentary Questions include:

  • There has been a sharp fall in the number of offenders taken back to court for breaching their orders, according to practitioners and magistrates

  • Offenders are increasingly supervised over the phone or through ‘biometric kiosks’ rather than face-to-face

  • The private probation service has cut 30% of its staff through voluntary and compulsory redundancies

  • CRCs received in excess of £20 million in bailouts by the British Government in the 2016/17 financial year and will receive up to £200 million this year

  • Voluntary organisations across both Wales and England have terminated partnerships with CRCs because of poor standards

  • The British Government inserted significant buy-out clauses in the contracts during privatisation in order to deter renationalisation

  • Other Parliamentary Questions from Liz Saville Roberts MP reveal that the Government does not collect data on key matters such as offenders being recalled to prison, staffing losses and offenders being reassessed on their risk category

  • No data is available on risk of harm to the public from offenders or change in their risk level

  • No data is available on missed appointments

  • No data is available on non-compliance with drug treatment orders

  • No data is available on offenders taken back to court misbehaviour or new offences

In addition, Plaid Cymru revealed in August that the number of offenders under statutory probation supervision being charged with murder, manslaughter, rape or other serious violent or sexual offences has gone up by 26.4% since the probation service in Wales and England was part-privatised

A leaked report from 2013 shows that the British Government was warned in its own risk assessment against privatisation, and that it could lead to “an unacceptable drop in operational performance" triggering "delivery failures and reputational damage”. Six months after receiving that report, the British Government sold off two-thirds of the probation service.

Plaid Cymru’s Justice spokesperson and MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Liz Saville Roberts MP, said:

“The series of disturbing practices in the private probation companies and the shocking lack of accountability exposed by the British Government’s answers to my questions are extremely worrying.

“Offenders under the supervision of these companies are committing murder, manslaughter and rape. That the number of instances of this kind have surged by 26 per cent since the probation service was privatised is deeply worrying and we know from leaked documents that Ministers were warned that privatisation could lead to this.

“The lack of accountability is completely unacceptable. The role of probation companies is to protect the public and rehabilitate offenders but they are not being asked by the Government to monitor basic information like how many offenders are summoned to court for missing appointments.

“The probation service must urgently be renationalised, with profit taken out of the equation, and responsibility over justice in Wales, including the probation service must be devolved to the Welsh Government.”

Director of the Victims’ Rights campaign, Harry Fletcher, who supported the Marshall family, added:

“Private probation must be more accountable. In the Conner Marshall case, the offender should been taken back to court for failing to keep to his supervision appointments, but this didn’t happen despite him missing at least six appointments.

“It is astonishing that the Rehabilitation Companies are not required to file information about basic issues such as risk to the public, breach rates, staffing numbers or missed meetings for those on drug treatment orders. Public safety is being compromised.”

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