Cumbria Probation Service 'under threat,' warns county's Crime Commissioner (From The Westmorland Gazette)
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Cumbria Probation Service 'under threat,' warns county's Crime Commissioner
CUMBRIA’S new crime commissioner has warned that the county’s probation service is under threat from a root-and-branch modernisation of the justice system.
The county's leading police and crime figurehead, Richard Rhodes, was giving his formal response to a consulation by the Ministry of Justice, which has been canvassing opinion on major reforms.
The department is aiming to ‘rebuild the system’ to ‘deliver better services with less money.'
It includes saving approximately £1 billion by improving effiiciency and cutting administration by at least a third, it says.
But some of the initial proposals have concerned Mr Rhodes, a Conservative, who has been a magistrate for 33 years and was elected to the £65,000-a-year post last November with over 18,000 votes.
In particular, ideas to ‘centralise’ some aspects of the probation service which he believes will impact on the Cumbria service, which employs over 200 people and has offices in Kendal, Barrow, Penrith and Carlisle.
Mr Rhodes has been chair of Cumbria Probation Trust for the past five years and a board member for nearly a decade. The trust oversees the work of the Probation Service in Cumbria, which deals with offenders, victims and those in prison.
Mr Rhodes said: “I recognise the need to reform services delivered by the public sector. I welcome some of the initiatives set out in the consultation - notably the provision for short term prison sentences to be followed by a period of supervision, which is long overdue.
“However, there are some concerns. The consultation document proposes to commission services centrally on the basis of 16 regions. How can I be held accountable for the performance of a commissioned service in Cumbria in which I play no part?”
He added: “By splitting the supervision of offenders into high risk and low risk – and between the public and private sector - this proposal also presents the possibility of a significant downsizing of the Probation Service in Cumbria with the consequential migration of resources from the county to larger conurbations.
“As Police and Crime Commissioner, I will not have access to a level of Probation Service which in turn will increase the threat to public protection and safety as well as negate many measures designed to reduce reoffending.”
Mr Rhodes believes the consultation ‘is not radical enough’ and would not ‘deliver the quality of service required’.
He explained: “In Cumbria, there is already a well-established cooperative approach with key partners such as Police, Probation, Youth Justice and Victim Support for which the Police and Crime Commissioner already has significant oversight responsibilities.
“My suggestion is that a pilot be set-up where the Commissioner would oversee the Probation Service in Cumbria and be able to further develop and reinforce existing partnerships as well as investigate the benefits of economies of scale.”
The Ministry has said that in future, it will focus resources and build a justice system that punishes the guilty, rehabilitates and reforms those who commit crime, provides support for those who need it most, makes taxpayers' money work harder and provide modernised services.
It says it is streamlining its structures and the way it works and will only pay for what it really needs - adding that it is closing buildings and court rooms that ‘aren't needed’.
Cumbria Probation Trust is a Criminal justice Agency serving Cumbria and is one of 35 probation trusts in England and Wales.