The Government has proposed major changes to the way Probation Services are run in England andImage of police handcuffs Wales.

Under the proposed changes, low to medium risk offenders will be left under the supervision of private companies and charitable organisations, who successfully bid for probation contracts.

Currently, the majority of released prisoners and people serving community sentences are managed by the public sector probation service – provided by 35 probation trusts across England and Wales.

However, under the Ministry of Justice’s proposals, up to 200,000 medium and low risk offenders will be transferred from the 35 probation trusts to the private sector.

The Government have proposed an offer of £500,000 to voluntary and community sector groups to help their bid for probation contracts. These companies will then be rewarded through a pay-by-results scheme, in which they will be paid according to the results they achieve in reducing the rates of re-offending.

Despite the decision for the public probation service to continue supervising some 50,000 high-risk offenders, including all serious violent and sexual offenders, the Probation Association points out that, “This (medium to low risk) group also includes offenders at high risk of re-offending, such as prolific burglars, chaotic drug users, gang members (and) child protection cases.”

The proposed changes have sparked debate between Government Ministers and Probation Officers.

A driving force of the reform is Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, who says plans to let security firms and voluntary groups manage probation on a “payment by results” basis will capture skills that exist across the public, private and voluntary sectors to help reduce re-offending rates. “What we do at the moment is send people out of prison with £46 in their pocket, and no support at all…It’s madness.”

His vision is supported by the Justice Minister, Lord McNally, who believes too many people on short sentences end up going back to prison after release. He claims that the overhaul of the Probation Service in England and Wales will tackle the ‘real problem’ of re-offending.

On the other hand, Harry Fletcher from the National Association of Probation Officers, says that qualified staff are needed to deal with the complex challenge presented by offenders in trying to stop them returning to prison. He described the overhaul as “astonishing”, and believes it has been “rushed through without proper thought to the consequences”.

Furthering this opinion is Chief Inspector of Probation, Liz Calderbank. In an interview with Today presenter James Naughtie she added, “What do you do with those individuals on a payment-by-results scheme? You can’t say (they’re) not worthy of the investment…There is a public duty to manage them safely within the community.”

Napo has also voiced its concerns, saying up to 750 jobs could be put at risk in Wales.

Assurances are being sought that the public will not be put at risk by a shake-up of the probation service, and changes are not expected to be implemented until the spring of 2015.

Do you work in the Probation Service? Let us know. We’d be interested to hear your views.