Plaid Cymru wants Welsh controlled, not privatised, probation service

By staff writers
January 9, 2013

Plaid Cymru has called for the Welsh Probation Service to become the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government rather than privatised under Westminster parliament plans.

Scotland is not impacted by the change, because it already holds its probation service under reserve powers exercised by the Scottish Government.

Critics say Westminster Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is looking to impose a 'solution' that will effectively reduce resources by syphoning them towards private profit, incentivising cost-cutting, and requiring more money to be spent on monitoring.

The Probation Chiefs' Association is concerned about the unevenness that may result from a hybrid approach, and the Prison Officers' Association is also opposed to the Conservatives' plans, pointing out that the risks associated with fragmented offender management are considerable.

Ironically, the public Probation Service in England and Wales has just received an official quality control affirmation. This shows, say opponents of privatisation, that the coalition government's proposals are ideologically rather than practically motivated.

The government plans to exclude innovators from within the public sector competing for contracts, and there are serious concerns that charities will get compromised or squeezed out by the commercial environment the Justice Secretary envisages.

Plaid (Party of Wales) leader Leanne Wood AM, a former probation officer herself, said that a Welsh way of dealing with crime would assist rehabilitation, while Justice spokesperson Elfyn Llwyd MP added that the privatisation plans showed the difference in values between Wales and Westminster.

The One Wales Government agreement between Plaid Cymru and Labour in 2007 agreed to “examine the devolution of criminal justice”, so proponents of claiming back the Welsh Probation Service can be deemed to have a clear democratic mandate.

Ms Wood declared: “The changes proposed by the UK Government to privatise 70 per cent of the probation service’s core work are against the strong public sector ethos of probation, which is about ensuring that former offenders can once again play a constructive role in their communities."

She continued: “Given the proposals, it would make sense if probation could follow a ‘Welsh way’ of dealing sensitively and properly with offenders, solving their problems to prevent future crime and looking at individuals’ wider situation."

“Rarely has the quality of a service been improved through privatisation, and, with the probation service, the risks are too high. Research shows that rehabilitation cuts crime. A Party of Wales Government would prioritise preventative intervention and non-custodial solutions where possible, within the public sector," Ms Wood declared.

“I have long argued for the probation service in Wales to be devolved, with appropriate funding given to the Welsh Government. There is now an even greater reason to devolve it now – so that the probation service can operate by the public sector for the public good," said the Plaid leader.

“In its second report, the Silk Commission must look very seriously at the full devolution of the whole of the criminal justice system to Wales,” she concluded.

Plaid Cymru Justice spokesperson Elfyn Llwyd added: “The Probation Service has long been under-funded and does not have the resources that it needs. Nevertheless it has still shown itself to be far more effective than short-term prison sentences in rehabilitating offenders.

"The service has met almost all of the targets set in the last few years and even been awarded a British Quality Gold Award for Excellence. So if it ain't broke, why fix it?

“This is an ideological choice by the Westminster Government which has no interest in either results, value for money or public safety – just lining private sector pockets. For all of those reasons, privatisation of the probation service in any way should be rejected," he said.

[Ekk/3]

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