AMs back devolution of criminal justice following botched probation privatisation

(Title Image: UK Government)

The Motion (Amended Version)

The Senedd:

  • Notes proposals for Probation Services Reform in Wales.
  • Notes the HM Prisons and Probation Service in Wales will build upon the unique arrangements that it already has in Wales to better reflect the devolved responsibilities of the Welsh Government and build on existing local partnerships.
  • Agrees with the National Association of Probation Officers that the privatisation of probation services has been a failure.
  • Calls for the devolution of criminal justice to Wales in order to create a publicly run probation service which serves the interests of our communities.

“Significant philosophical differences”

Public Services Secretary, Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) told AMs that there were very different views between the Welsh and British governments over probation reforms. He welcomes a recent Ministry of Justice report which “put Wales in a distinct position” and rejected the idea of “shoehorning” English reforms into Wales.

In terms of what he would like to see happen:

“The proposals that we are discussing include: integrating the offender management function of the community rehabilitation companies into the National Probation Service, to create a single probation system in Wales; closer alignment of both these structures and a stronger role for local partners in shaping probation services; opportunities for joint commissioning with both the Welsh Government and police and crime commissioners; and the opportunity to achieve increased integration across prisons and probation.”
– Public Services Secretary, Alun Davies

In particular, he wants to see a service where everyone leaving custody knows where they’ll be living upon release, where prisoners are actively encouraged to undertake work or training to help themselves get a job upon release and stressing the importance of familial contact to help rehabilitation.

“Devolution of criminal justice would be damaging”

Shadow Communities Secretary, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) rejected devolution of any part of the criminal justice system:

“Calls for the devolution of criminal justice to Wales fail to recognise that criminal activity does not recognise national or regional boundaries, that over 1.4 million people in Wales, 48 per cent of the population, live within 25 miles of the border with England, and 2.7 million people, 90 per cent of the population, within 50 miles of the border. In contrast, only 5 per cent of the combined population of Scotland and England lives within 50 miles of their border.”
– Mark Isherwood AM

He also didn’t accept that the probation service would’ve been protected had it been devolved, believing it would’ve been “decimated by bureaucratic control” than through privatisation.

“Heartbreaking to witness”

Calling back to previous questions on this, former probation officer, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) pulled no punches:

Describing the introduction of a profit motive in offender rehabilitation as “obscene”, she believes renationalising probation services would go some way to repairing the damage done. However, probation staff needed to be treated with great care as their treatment was described as “appalling”.

Had criminal justice already been devolved then the probation privatisation “disaster” could have been avoided. When she suggested devolution in 2008 it was considered “radical” and was opposed by many Labour AMs; now they’re supporting it themselves.

“I very much agree with what Leanne Wood has just stated, Dirprwy Lywydd. I think that the criminal justice system in the UK is nothing short of disastrous and horrific. It’s inhumane, it’s unproductive, it creates a lot of damage for our communities, and it needs to change. So, the more power we can draw down to Wales to have a much more enlightened and effective system, the better, and the sooner that it happens, the better.”
– John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East)

Julie Morgan AM (Lab, Cardiff North) – who is a former social worker – described some of the work of the probation service as “outstanding” and it needed to be rebuilt; the market-driven model was completely unsuitable.

It was Caroline Jones AM (Ind, South Wales West) – a former prison officer – who perhaps made the most surprising contribution of the afternoon. Moving from a party that now wants the Assembly abolished to this:

“….Chris Grayling’s botched attempts to reform have turned the probation service into a national embarrassment. I would like to see the devolution of the criminal justice system. Our prisons are overflowing with people who should not be there: those suffering from mental ill health, veterans suffering from PTSD who have been abandoned by the system, and those who are desperately in need of shelter.”
– Caroline Jones AM

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This has been a Chris Grayling Production

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