Queen's Speech: Probation 'extended to all offenders'

Prisoners in a cell block at Wormwood Scrubs, a Category B prison in London. Anyone serving more than a year or given a supervision order is allocated a probation officer

All offenders released from prison in England and Wales would receive at least 12 months' supervision, under new plans announced in the Queen's Speech.

At present, people serving sentences of less than 12 months are not allocated a probation officer.

Ministers also want all drug-addicted offenders to seek treatment and extend testing to include Class B drugs.

They hope the changes will allow probation officers to deal with the causes of reoffending.

The Offender Rehabilitation Bill is one of a dozen bills set out in the Queen's Speech, which allows the government to outline its proposed bills for the next parliamentary session.

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

Community sentences

Any person sentenced to more than a year, or given a supervision requirement, is currently allocated a probation officer. This statutory supervision can involve regular meetings, curfews and a requirement to attend drug or alcohol rehabilitation courses.

Prisoners serving under 12 months currently only undergo voluntary rehabilitation and are otherwise freed without support or supervision.

The bill proposes supervision for offenders serving sentences of less than 12 months - there would be an initial licence period then an extended period of supervision, amounting to 12 months in total.

Other changes set out in the bill:

  • In all cases, offenders serving one to two years will receive 12 months' supervision
  • Supervision provisions to be extended to offenders who are under 18 when sentenced but turn 18 before release
  • Drug-addicted offenders must attend treatment appointments
  • Offenders can be tested for both Class A (such as cocaine and heroin) and Class B drugs (such as cannabis )
  • Greater flexibility for probation providers looking after offenders with community orders and suspended sentences. They will be allowed to require offenders to attend appointments or activities
  • Offenders serving sentences in the community will need to seek permission, rather than just give notification, before moving out of their area

The government hopes the bill will reduce reoffending rates for the most prolific criminals, and support its plans to open up probation services to a wide range of providers, including those from the private and voluntary sector.

Currently, nearly half of all offenders who leave prison reoffend within a year - but they are more likely to do so if they are not under supervision.

Under government plans outlined in January, private firms and charities could be given responsibility for supervising the 200,000 low and medium-risk offenders on a payment by results basis.

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