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‘People will die’: Warning as freed prisoners go ‘unmonitored’, as probation service cuts supervision

9 May 2024, 13:23 | Updated: 9 May 2024, 18:07

Released prisoners will stop being supervised after serving two thirds of their license, under a new policy introduced by the probation service.
Released prisoners will stop being supervised after serving two thirds of their license, under a new policy introduced by the probation service. Picture: Alamy

By Connor Hand and Fraser Knight

Released prisoners will stop being supervised after serving two thirds of their license, under a new policy introduced by the probation service.

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LBC understands the ‘probation reset’ measures came into effect last week, to reduce the workloads of staff, meaning offenders nearing the end of their license now won’t be monitored as closely.

Probation officers keep tabs on offenders serving community sentences and those released early from prison, to make sure their conditions are being met and they’re not at risk of committing serious further offences.

Though it is understood this will impact the majority of released offenders, the Ministry of Justice insists the changes will not apply to those who have are deemed to be at greatest to the public, such as those convicted of murder.

That said, one senior officer in the service said the move to reduce staff supervision was "dangerous", will mean "warning signs are missed" and that "people will die" because of it.

He told LBC that he has already felt guilty for turning away offenders who’ve asked for housing support to keep them off the streets.

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And he is worried that the extension of the early release scheme for prisoners, to free up cells - which was announced internally at the same time - will only make matters worse.

It was revealed that it will be going up to 70 days from the end of May.

Sir Bob Neill, the Conservative chair of the Justice Select Committee, told LBC the lack of prison spaces and the lack of resources in probation have created “the perfect storm” but warned that ministers need to be very aware of the risks.

“The honest truth is there is always risk around probation,” he said.

“I think we should make sure this is kept under review the whole time and not make it a long-term substitute for getting people into the system and getting more money into the system.”

The reduction of supervision towards the end of a license was proposed by the Napo union, which represents probation officers and staff, who told LBC most people in the service are working at between 150 and 200% of their contracted hours.

But Ian Lawrence, the general secretary, said the extension to the early release scheme means it won’t be as effective now.

“There’s always a risk, we have to be honest,” he said, “but there hasn’t been the investment and there hasn't been the numbers of staff we need, and we need to look at how we mitigate that risk.

HM Chief Inspector of Probation on understaffing

“It is a risky business, we’re never going to totally mitigate it. The currency of probation is risk - I don’t think many politicians, certainly in this government, have grasped that.

“We were of the view, in November, that this would help free up probation staff to focus on the cases in front of them but that’s all been wiped out by the [extension of the early release scheme] and it has scuppered that approach.

Meanwhile, Anthony Goodman, a former probation officer and Professor of Criminology at the University of Middlesex told LBC: “This is trying to put a sticking plaster on something that needs major surgery.”

He added: “Unless something is really done to look at what’s going on, then we’re just going to muddle along to the detriment of the general public who - I think rightly - should feel less safe as a result of this.”

Signage outside the National Probation Service, Probation Office, Great Dover Street, Southwark, London SE1, England, U.K.
Signage outside the National Probation Service, Probation Office, Great Dover Street, Southwark, London SE1, England, U.K. Picture: Alamy

Asked whether this could result in people’s lives being endangered, Professor Goodman said: “Absolutely… we’re talking about very frail, vulnerable people and, yes, many of them are offenders, but also the general public is more at risk. This is something we should all be extremely concerned about because it affects all of us.”

The Inspector of Probation has told LBC he will now monitor the implementation of both the early release scheme and the suspension of supervision, to make sure it’s done safely.

Martin Jones said: “There are no easy solutions or risk-free choices here but my understanding from the evidence is that people have the highest risk in the early part of their supervision so there is some logic to reducing it towards the end of that period.

“Inevitably, though, if you stop supervision, there will be some risk that will rise.”

Earlier this week, Labour slammed the government for using “a cloak of silence” to quietly announce the early release scheme being extended.

Reacting to LBC’s findings about the supervision of offenders on licence, though, shadow prisons minister Ruth Cadbury said: “We’ve had two changes impacting the probation service in 24 hours and we have to take into account public safety - that has to be the top priority.

“Taking a third of the supervision of those on licence away is a real risk and this is an impact of 14 years of Tory chaos.”

Responding to LBC’s revelations, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: "We recognise the pressures facing our hardworking probation staff which is why we are making changes to ensure they can continue to deliver high quality supervision in the community.

"These measures, alongside our £155 million investment in the Probation Service each year, will reduce caseloads and mean staff can maximise supervision of the most serious offenders."

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