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Probation officers serve up tough questions for justice secretary Chris Grayling on Gloucester visit

By The Citizen  |  Posted: March 13, 2014

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling

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Probation service workers took their chance to question Justice Secretary Chris Grayling about privatisation plans on a visit to Gloucester today. (Thursday)

Workers went on strike last year when Government proposals were announced that could see offenders monitored by private companies like Serco and under fire G4S.

Unions claim plans to offload up to 70 per cent of the probation service to the private sector could see low and medium risk offenders supervised by unskilled workers, lacking in experience.

Joanna Hughes, vice chair of Gloucestershire National Association of Probation Officers, said: “Ten Probation workers met with Chris Grayling with members of the probation board and the senior management team.

“The meeting could be compared to a game of dodge ball, we threw lots of balls and he dodged them. Questions were asked about the risk register, the lack of a pilot, victims and the new victim code and communication between organisations.

“It was pointed out that the government's plans to split up the probation service into public and private separate services will increase the layers of bureaucracy. Probation officers also asked about the fact that he has not listened to any professional advice and his consultation process ignored all evidence.

“Mr Grayling was surprisingly uncomfortable at some of the questions and the strength of feeling of probation workers around the table.”

The current Gloucestershire Probation Trust will cease to exist on May 31.

It is one of the top performers in the country in breaking the cycle of crime, often linked to drug and alcohol misuse.

John Bensted, Trust Chief Executive Officer insists changes to the service won’t compromise public safety.

“Tackling offending behaviour is a complex business,” he said. “Our dedicated and professional staff work with all those offenders sentenced to Community Orders by local Magistrates and Judges, as well as those sentenced to 12 months or more in prison.

“We are also piloting a number of new schemes that make an even bigger difference in reducing reoffending.

“We are developing restorative justice, whereby victims and carefully selected offenders meet face to face.

“The success of our interventions with the 1700 offenders we work with is borne out by Government figures which show our dedicated probation staff have made the biggest impact nationally in reducing reoffending since this data was first produced four years ago .

“The Government's reforms for Probation are the most radical in a generation and we are working with our staff and unions, together with our key partners, such as the police, courts and many others, to ensure a smooth transfer to the new arrangements that maintain public safety at every stage.

“Our priorities remain the same, namely to protect the public and reduce reoffending further.”

There has been a Probation presence in Gloucestershire for well over 100 years.

Gloucestershire Probation has offices in Gloucester, Cheltenham, Stroud and Coleford and employs about 200 workers in the county.

Employees fear cuts of up to 30 per cent and believe job losses will be inevitable if the probation service is sold off to a private firm.

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  • CitizenSmith9  |  March 15 2014, 1:06AM

    What I do not understand is why the general public are not up in arms about the decision to reform (privatize) the probation service. The standard of protection will undoubtedly deteriorate by using inadequately trained staff once the existing qualified probation officers leave the service due to new contracts. Probation officers are already leaving like rats of a sinking ship. NAPO need to grow a pair and stand up for the people they represent. The planned strikes on the 31/3 and 1/4 are too little to late as the Offender rehabilitation bill has been approved by the house of lords. Only the Tory party are in favor of the changes and no other professional body support the changes, including the magistrates, police, and judges. The leaked government risk assessment is damning and warns against the changes but this assessment has not been made public. Nobody seams to be listening and it will be to late when such companies as Group4S and Serco are handed 10 year contracts.

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