November 27 2023

Part-privatisation of probation ‘irredeemably flawed’, says chief inspector

Part-privatisation of probation ‘irredeemably flawed’, says chief inspector

'Sometimes you just have to believe': Chris Grayling in 2013 on privatising probation without piloting

Chris Grayling’s part-privatisation of probation was ‘irredeemably flawed’ and caused professional ethics to ‘buckle’ under commercial pressures, according to the probation watchdog.

In her annual repot published today, Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey offered a scathing assessment of the 2013 reforms under which the bulk of probation work was contracted out to the private sector.Under Transforming Rehabilitation programme, the Ministry of Justice dismantled 35 probation trusts and in their place created 21 community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) to manage low or medium risk offenders and the National Probation Service for those posing higher risks. The proposals were rolled out without being piloted and foisted upon a sector united in opposition to the part-privatisation of a public service.

The last five years had been ‘a turbulent time’, Dame Stacey writes. ‘To implement government policy, capable probation leaders were required to deliver change they did not believe in, against the very ethos of the profession.’ According to her inspections, probation as delivered by CRCs was ‘sub-standard, and much of it demonstrably poor’ and judicial confidence in community sentencing was at ‘serious risk’.

Earlier this month, the National Audit Office issued another damning critique arguing that the reforms had been ‘set up to fail’. According to the NAO, the number of offenders returned to prison has ‘skyrocketed’ and taxpayers face paying at least £467 million more than anticipated.

Glenys Stacey attacks privatisation of an essential service which, she says, led to ‘a deplorable diminution of the probation profession’ and ‘a widespread move away from good probation practice’. ‘This is chiefly due to the impact of commerce. Professional ethics can buckle under such pressures, and the evidence we have is that this has happened to some extent.’

Whilst Stacey welcomes the ‘bold decision’ to terminate CRCs contracts early, she argues that there this leaves ‘serious design flaws unaddressed’.

‘The probation model delivered by Transforming Rehabilitation is irredeemably flawed. Above all, it has proved well-nigh impossible to reduce probation services to a set of contractual requirements. Professional probation work is so much more than simply a series of transactions, and when treated in that way it is distorted and diminished.’
Glenys Stacey

According to the report, staffing levels were now at a ‘critical level’ with a ‘national shortage’ of staff’ especially those responsible for more complex casework.

Grayling, who last week admitted his reforms had not ‘worked as well as we would have wanted’, derided the idea of testing his radical vision. The New Labour government was ‘obsessed with pilots’, he said in an exchange in the House of Commons in 2013. ‘Sometimes those in government just have to believe in something and do it.’

Stacey calls for an integrated service: a national strategy to provide staff training, a common IT approach and a national estates strategy.

‘Experience has shown that it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to reduce the probation service to a set of contractual requirements and measures, and equally difficult to deliver probation well without a nationwide approach to the essential underpinnings of the service. Significant flaws in the system have become increasingly apparent,’ she concludes. ‘It will be virtually impossible to deal with these issues if most probation supervision continues to be provided by different organisations, under contract. I urge the government to consider carefully the future model for probation services, and hope that this report will be of help.’




258,157 individuals under probation supervision


80% proportion of CRCs inspected by HMI Probation rated ‘inadequate’

64% reoffending rate for adults released from a custodial sentence of less than 12 months. Those who serve longer sentences reoffend at a rate of 28%

33% reoffending rate for adults released from a custodial sentence of less than 12 months =. Those who serve longer sentences reoffend at a rate of 28%

11% proportion of criminal justice third-sector voluntary organisations now working directly with CRCs

£294 million forecast losses of CRCs as at March 2018 compared with £269 million forecast profit at bid stage