Lords issue warning on rehabilitation plans

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A former chief inspector of prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, and a former chief justice, Lord Woolf, have warned the Ministry of Justice to "proceed with caution" on reforms in the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, during second-reading debate.

Crossbench peer Lord Woolf said that the government's "objectives [were] excellent and the rewards would be large" but urged the government to think carefully about the resources available for the reforms, as past proposals had failed.

The bill proposes that all offenders released from prison in England and Wales should receive at least a year's supervision, in an effort to reduce reoffending. Currently, those serving sentences of 12 months or less are not allocated a probation officer.

On 20 May 2013, Justice Minister Lord McNally said he would take Lord Woolf's warning "onboard" and that lessons had been learnt from previous endeavours.

Earlier, Lord McNally said that the delivery of services for offenders in the community would be opened to a "diverse range of new rehabilitation providers" including voluntary and private sector groups, who would work alongside the National Probation Service.

But the Bishop of Newcastle, the Right Reverend Martin Wharton, said he had "considerable misgivings" about an extension of what he called the "contract culture".

Crossbench peer Lord Ramsbottom warned that he was "deeply uneasy about the bill", and though he agreed with the general principles there were many "unanswered questions".

Winding up the debate, Lord McNally said that though he understood the dangers he "passionately believed [the bill] was worth trying".

He said there was "a great deal of common agreements about objectives in the House" and that the House should use its experience to put in place an innovative and money-saving piece of legislation.

The bill applies to England and Wales only. In Scotland local authorities are responsible for most probation services, and in Northern Ireland it is dealt with by the Justice Department.

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