Probation service staff go out on strike over claims privatisation plans risk public safety

Northampton branch of National Association of Probation Officers
Northampton branch of National Association of Probation Officers

Probation officers in Northamptonshire are taking strike action today over plans to privatise part of the service.

Members of the county branch of the National Association of Probation Officers will walk out at noon on Monday and picket local offices before taking part in a rally in London tomorrow, Tuesday April 1.

The union, which is calling only its fifth strike in 103 years, says that justifications being used for plans to privatise 70 percent of the service refer to the re-offending rates of prisoners sentenced to less than 12 months. The probation service has never been funded, or required, to work with this category of prisoner, the union says.

Northamptonshire branch chairman, Lesley Donoghue, said; “This whole process is being rushed through without proper consideration to the effect on staff or the risk to public safety.

“In 2011 the probation service won the British Quality Foundation’s Gold Medal for Excellence (the first public sector organisation to win the award). Northamptonshire Probation Trust provides an excellent service to the local community and if given the opportunity would also assist in rehabilitating those sentenced to less than 12 months in prison”.

THe unions campaign has the support of other agencies such as the Howard League for Penal Reform, Penal Reform Trusts, academics and professionals across the justice sector. The Justice Alliance, representing solicitors and law firms across the country will also withdraw their labour on Monday and Tuesday. They are campaigning against the Government’s cuts to legal aid.

Ian Lawrence, Napo General Secretary said “Our members feel passionate about their profession and the work that they do to protect the public and rehabilitate offenders.

“They do not take strike action lightly and this has been a very difficult decision for them. But the public needs to know how these changes will impact on risk management and ultimately public protection. If the Secretary of State really believes in these reforms then we ask him to pause and to run pilots that can be independently evaluated to evidence they work. However, he refuses to do this and is pushing them through ahead of the general election. It will cost the public in terms of both safety and taxpayers’ money”.

Ms Donoghue added: “We have no evidence that privatisation will improve re-offending rates and there is grave concern by probation and other justice professionals that public safety will be put at risk. Is this a gamble local people want to take?”