THE Prime Minister has been accused of risking public safety by ploughing ahead with plans to sell of a slice of the probation service for £1.3bn – five years after a botched bid to privatise the sector.
Boris Johnson has begun tendering huge contracts for crisis-hit probation services despite repeated failings as he pushes ahead with a u-turn on Chris Grayling’s disastrous 2015 reforms.
His plan to partly privatise the sector has faced a backlash by critics who claim companies were failing to monitor freed criminals.
And the probation service has come under renewed scrutiny in the aftermath of the London Bridge terror attack.
Convicted Al Qaeda jihadist Usman Khan, 28, was on licence after being released automatically halfway through a 16-year prison sentence in December last year for a pipe bomb plot on the London Stock Exchange – when he went on to kill two people in a terror attack last week.
The London Bridge attack sparked a review of licence conditions imposed on 74 people who have been jailed for terror offences and released early.
Earlier this year David Gauke announced the 2015 reforms would be scrapped and the service re-nationalised by spring 2021, at an extra cost to the taxpayer of £467million.
But he said that services worth £280 million a year – including drug and alcohol treatment and community services – would be sold off to private firms.
Now the Conservative are hunting new private companies to take over the work.
The contracts include rehabilitative services for domestic abuse – despite victims being repeatedly failed by private probation service.
Ian Lawrence, head of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: “Leaving 20% of the contracts in private hands is catastrophic.
“Lessons have clearly not be learnt – private companies put profits over public safety.”
Mr Gauke’s U-turn earlier this year revealed the management of 152,000 medium and low-risk offenders in the community would be brought back into the public sector under the National Probation Service (NPS) by December 2022.
The NPS currently manages 106,000 high-risk offenders. It means up to 6,000 probation officers, who transferred to the private firms, will return to the NPS.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has already agreed £467million in compensation to them for ending the contracts early and will have to spend millions more on reemploying the officers.
An MoJ spokesman said it had spent £2.3billion so far on the private decade-long contracts, but saved £1.4billion by ending them early.
However, he refused to say if there would be a net loss for the taxpayer.
Under the new model, services worth up to £280million a year including drug and alcohol treatment, and some training and community services will still be contracted out to the private sector.
The £280m-a-year contracts will cover 12 regions and stretch over five years. There is the potential to extend the deals for a further three years.
Companies are bidding to deliver rehabilitation services including “unpaid work, emotional management, domestic abuse and attitude, thinking and behaviours”.
Contracts will be allocated “based on the combined lowest price” – risking a repeat of past failings.
And the Tory’s have confirmed contracts will be allocated under the so-called “Light Touch Regime” – a more relaxed set of rules for the procurement.
Richard Burgon, Labour ’s shadow justice secretary, said: “Just as with the NHS, our probation system should be in public hands where it can help keep communities safe, not acting as a cash cow for failing private companies.
“You can’t trust the Conservatives with our justice system. Labour will ensure probation is back in the public sector where it can focus on public safety, not private profit.”
In March Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation, described the 2014 reforms as “irredeemably flawed”.
After the part-privatisation, re-offending rates rose, prisoners were released with nowhere to live and some offenders’ rehabilitation was handled solely over the phone.
Figures published last month found almost a fifth of murders in England and Wales are now committed by people who are on parole.
Experts claim failures by the probation service to supervise prisoners properly once they are released is now reaching crisis point with a 63 per cent increase in the number of homicides committed by ex-inmates.
Among the offenders who have slipped through probation’s net are Leroy Campbell, 57, who raped and murdered nurse Lisa Skidmore in her own home four months after being released on licence in 2016.
Six weeks before he climbed into the bedroom of the Wolverhampton property with a ladder, he had told the probation service he was “noticing open windows” and thinking about rape, but no steps were taken to recall him to prison.
Marvyn Iheanacho, 41, who beat his girlfriend’s five-year-old son Alex Malcolm to death for losing his trainer in a south London park, had a catalogue of previous convictions for violence against ex-girlfriends.
Alex’s mother was not aware of Iheanacho’s violent past and he broke the conditions of his licence – which included not having unsupervised contact with under-16s – with impunity.
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness said: “Boris Johnson’s latest con trick is to tell people he wants to cut crime while at the same time destroying the key public services that keep us safe.
“If you let the private sector run our probation services their priority will be profit when it should be about stopping people committing crime.
“We’ve seen re-offending rise under the private sector, we know already that Boris’ plan simply doesn’t work.
”The Tories urgently need to call off this billion pound failure before we see crime rise and more public money wasted.
“Instead, lets invest in local services and increase local oversight of probation services, so those neighborhoods affected by crime can have a say over how people are rehabilitated.”
Dame Glenys’ report found that one firm, Sodexo, holds meetings between offenders and probation officers in restaurant-style booths in open-plan offices.
Artificial background sounds, known as “white noise”, are played to prevent people from eavesdropping.
Other criticism of private providers included supervising offenders by telephone only, usually after an initial meeting.
She also said that housing needs are met less often (54% of private cases compared with 70% of public cases).
And Dame Glenys criticised inadequate protection for victims and their children when domestic abusers return to their community.
It was claimed 22% of offenders released without knowing where they were going to sleep that night.
And officers in the private sector are carrying higher caseloads than those in the public sector
At the end of September, 258,157 offenders were on probation in England and Wales, either preparing to leave jail having just been released, or serving community or suspended sentences.
More than 150,000 were supervised by private Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC), with the rest – deemed high-risk offenders – managed by the National Probation Service (NPS).
The National Audit Office also claimed problems with the partial privatisation of the probation system in England and Wales have cost taxpayers almost £500m.
The National Audit Office said reforms were “rushed” and the numbers returning to prison for breaching their licence conditions had since “skyrocketed”.