Sat, 3 December 2022

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By Tom Sasse
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Spending watchdogs slam Chris Grayling's 'extremely costly' probation reforms

Spending watchdogs slam Chris Grayling's 'extremely costly' probation reforms
3 min read

Spending watchdogs have condemned probation reforms brought in by Chris Grayling, saying they had failed to cut re-offending and been "extremely costly for taxpayers".

In a scathing report, the National Audit Office said the "rushed roll-out" of the part-privatisation had led to a whole range of problems which the Ministry of Justice was still battling to solve.

Mr Grayling - who has been criticised for other reforms he introduced while Justice Secretary, as well for his performance in his current role at the Department for Transport  - introduced rhe reforms in 2013.

Under the changes, 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies were set up to manage low-or medium risk offenders, and the National Probation Service dealt with those posing higher risks.

By March 2017, midway through the reforms, there was an overall 2.5% fall in the proportion of reoffenders since 2011, but there was a 22% overall increase in the number of reoffences per reoffender.

And just six CRCs - fewer than a third - consistently achieved significant reductions in the number of reoffenders they dealt with.

By March 2018, the CRCs faced loses of £294 million, compared with the initially expected profits of £269 million.

It is estimated that the reforms will end up costing taxpayers around £500 million.

Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said: "The Ministry set itself up to fail in how it approached probation reforms. Its rushed roll-out created significant risks that it was unable to manage. These have had far reaching consequences.

"Not only have these failings been extremely costly for taxpayers, but we have seen the number of people on short sentences recalled to prison sky-rocket. It is welcome that the Ministry’s proposals address some of the issues that have caused problems, but risks remain.

"It needs to pause and think carefully about its next steps so that it can get things right this time and improve the quality of probation services."

Prisons minister Rory Stewart admitted the performance of CRCs was "too often deeply disappointing".

He said: "That is why we have stepped in to end contracts early and invested an extra £22m a year in services for offenders on release."

Labour MP Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said the MoJ's "botched contracting has left this essential service underfunded".

She added: "The ministry now needs to reflect and ensure that its new proposals can deliver the much needed improvements to probation services."

Lib Dem justice spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said: "The rehabilitation of offenders and their re-integration into the community is central to who we are as a society and vital for cutting crime. It must be done with a sense of responsibility.

"Good public services cannot be expected to be run on a shoe string. The Tory party’s obsession with saving money has actually cost millions and increased crime."

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