Probation service privatisation: Midlands reoffending rates down

Yes, I admit it: I'm guilty as charged.

Image caption Fewer people are going on to reoffend in the West Midlands.

Having spoken glibly for years about "the revolving door of reoffending", I have been amazed at just how sharply the rates have been falling in our part of the country.

According to the latest quarterly figures released in August by the Ministry of Justice, reoffending rates in all our region's police force areas are below 10% and, in most cases, comfortably below that figure.

In the West Midlands and Staffordshire out of a "cohort" of 53,216 ex-offenders, 6.96% went on to reoffend, that's down by no less than 16.24% compared with 2007/8.

In West Mercia out of 10,039, 9.61% reoffended, down by 0.79% over the same period.

In Gloucestershire, 8.98% of 4,520 reoffended down 6.02% and in Warwickshire out of 4,505, 7.66% reoffended, down by a thumping 17.85%.

The West Midlands force area can point to some remarkable results: Dudley stands out as the star performer.

Over the past two years the force has almost trebled the number of officers whose sole responsibility is preventing criminals from repeating their offences.

They report falling crime figures over the same period with burglaries in the area down by no less than 40%. It's a similar picture, say West Midlands Police, across Walsall, Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Solihull, Coventry and Birmingham.

Deputy Chief Constable Dave Thompson says; "The figures demonstrate how the police, the Probation Service and others have formed a cast-iron partnership to prevent people from reoffending.

"The result of our new approach to offender management is that crime levels in the West Midlands are being driven down to levels not seen in a decade."

If it ain't broke

So while things are going this well, why on earth is the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling promising a "rehabilitation revolution" including the privatisation of 70% of the Probation Service: the service of which Deputy Chief Constable Thompson speaks so highly?

For a start, the progress being achieved in the West Midlands is not being matched elsewhere; national reoffending rates are significantly higher than our local figures.

To support their contention that maybe the existing system is 'broke' after all, the Ministry of Justice would much prefer to use their "more robust" national numbers.

Mr Grayling points to the 600,000 crimes committed every year across England and Wales by people who have offended before and which cost the country an estimated £13bn per annum.

And that's not counting the crimes that go undetected.

The government's privatisation plan will see £450m worth of payment-by-results contracts awarded in 20 English regions.

Ministers say 700 companies and charities in Britain and worldwide are expected to express an interest in taking-on the new services from 2015.

Among them G4s and Serco, whose existing contracts are under review after it emerged they had overcharged the government by tens of millions of pounds for electronic tags for criminals.

Private firms will be dealing with around 250,000 medium and low-risk offenders, leaving the core 30,000 high-risk offenders with what remains of the public sector organisation to be known as the National Probation Service.

Strikes 'a certainty'

Ministers believe this will enable to NPS to focus on what they do best: concentrating their efforts on the minority who are likeliest to offend again.

But the probation service union Napo say it is in for "the fight of its life" on behalf of 18,000 people facing "total uncertainty about their future employment".

A Napo spokeswoman said industrial action was "a racing certainty" following a ballot in which 80% voted in favour, out a 46% turnout.

The Conservative Justice Minister and Kenilworth and Southam MP Jeremy Wright said this was "disappointing" but there were "well-established contingency arrangements".

And the plans are strongly supported by the right of centre research organisation Policy Exchange, the original architects of many of the changes.

Max Chambers, of the Policy Exchange, says: "There are huge opportunities that payments-by results can offer staff including greater professional discretion, more freedom to innovate and a chance to have a stake in their own mutual organisations."

But here in the West Midlands the Deputy Police Commissioner Yvonne Mosquito is worried that the government plans could put at risk all the progress being made in places like Dudley.

She says the proposals "have the potential to undermine successful integrated offender management not just here in the West Midlands but across the country too".

"Anyone with an interest in offender management, rehabilitation and probation services should take a look at the consultation and let their MP and the Ministry of Justice have their views."

And we'll be doing our best to help inform that debate in this weekend's Sunday Politics.

It will be our main talking point from 11.00 on BBC One in the West Midlands.