Concerns for public safety raised over changes to probation trust

Probation trust
Probation trust
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A probation officer has voiced fears over risks to public safety and criminals’ supervision after prison which may come as a result of impending changes to the Surrey and Sussex Probation Trust.

She has warned ‘public safety and risk should not be subject to profit’ as the trust - which is responsible for supervising offenders released from prison - prepares for complete dissolution along with all others in England and Wales on March 31 2014.

Probation trust

Probation trust

The trust manages from 8,000 offenders in the community and in prisons, and employs around 670 staff.

It will be replaced by a single National Probation Service (NPS) and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs).

Between now and the end of March 2014, work is taking place on a national and local level to set up the NPS and the CRC for this area. The local CRC will cover Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

The change will mean around 30,000 cases will transfer from the current Surrey and Sussex Probation Trust to the NPS, including sex offenders and those convicted of serious violence. The NPS is also likely to cover breaches and other court work, and operating bail and probation hostels.

But this only represents around 30 per cent of the trust’s current work.

The remaining 70 per cent - which mainly involves rehabilitation work and supervising other offenders - will be carried out by CRCs.

These will be put out to competitive tender in April 2014, with this due to conclude in Autumn 2014, and the successful bidder will undertake the work of CRCs on a payment by results basis.

It’s a move that doesn’t sit comfortably with many probation officers.

“CRCs will have shareholders who will profit from the success of their company, as a result of crime, involving victims,” argues one officer who wishes to remain anonymous.

Her role is to manage both risk of harm and re-offending at an acceptable level, whilst enabling an individual to re-establish links within the community.

In her decade-strong career she has supervised individuals from all over the county including the Horsham district.

She told the County Times: “Like Humpty Dumpty, once the probation service is broken down it will never be put back together again.

“Experienced in dealing, as I do, with some of the most difficult to engage members of society I am not concerned about my future employability whether this be within the criminal justice sector or outside of it. I am, however, concerned at the risks being posed to public safety as a result of the changes being rushed in under the radar of public awareness as a result of probation officers like myself quietly undertaking a very important role outside the recognition of the public.”

The officer, who regularly works a ten-hour day - well in excess of the 37-hour week for which she is paid - highlights one of her main concerns as the strong relationships between statutory bodies like the police and children’s services which have been built over time and which could be diminished by the shift.

She also argues that computerised record systems, currently available to NPS, will not be available to CRCs, and computerised assessment tools are currently in development instead.

Offices sprawled across three counties is another concern.

She says differing locations could lead to delays as paperwork is transferred. There is no guarantee the trust’s offices in Crawley, Worthing, Chichester and Littlehampton in the west and Brighton, Hastings and Eastbourne in the east, will remain.

“My fear is that these matters will only come to the attention of the public when something goes badly wrong in the supervision of an offender in the community as a result of these proposed changes,” said the officer. “It will then be too late to reverse them.”

The official suggests that the NPS will retain responsibility for all individuals subject to MAPPA (Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements), which include all those convicted of sexual offences and high level violence.

The NPS will also be responsible for court work, including reports for sentencing whether this will be supervised by NPS or CRC, alongside work with victims.

“It seems current arrangements are accepted as appropriate by ministers and I hope the public take some comfort from this,” she explained.

“It does, however, seem strange to be trusted with this high level work and not the remainder.

“A word of caution is that research would evidence that the majority of serious further offences are committed by those at the low/medium risk levels, who will be managed by the CRCs under the new proposals.”

Surrey and Sussex Probation Trust has said it will seek to keep all staff during the shake-up. Allocation between the NPS and CRCs has not yet been made available, but internal statements to staff suggest they will know their future placement by the end of January 2014.

“I and my colleagues continue to work hard and apply ourselves to a cause we believe to be worth fighting for,” the officer concluded.

“Public safety and risk should not be subject to profit.”