CRIMINALS in South Tyneside will be more likely to reoffend if plans to privatise the probation service go ahead.
That is the view of probation officers in the borough and union members, who say reoffending rates will rise if the Government sells off Northumbria Probation Trust to a private firm.
Almost all the 30 probation staff in the borough, who work in Secretan Way, next to South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court, will stage a 24-hour walkout from noon on Tuesday to protest Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s plans.
Mr Grayling is proposing that probation trusts in England and Wales will be abolished and the supervision of offenders will be transferred to “community rehabilitation companies” on a payment-by-results basis by next October. A much smaller national probation service will manage 31,000 high-risk offenders and public protection cases.
Between April 2012 and March this year there were 2,122 offenders under the supervision of probation in South Tyneside.
Of those, 302 were expected to reoffend, but only 270 actually did and since 2007, reoffending in the borough has reduced by 10 per cent.
Napo representative for South Tyneside Mike Quinn said the Government’s proposals are “dangerous” and could see reoffending rates rise.
He said: “We have huge concerns about the privatisation of the probation service and the catastrophic consequences this could have on public safety and feel we have no option but to strike to demonstrate our opposition to these plans.
“The South Tyneside community deserves to be made aware of the dangerous plans the coalition Government is imposing.
“There is absolutely no evidence that the introduction of private companies into this area of work will reduce reoffending.
“Indeed we have concerns that by destroying the probation service, which has worked hard to achieve such good results, reoffending rates will increase once again, resulting ultimately in more victims of crime in South Tyneside.”
About 30 firms are thought to have expressed an interest in the contracts, including G4S – the company behind the security at last year’s Olympic Games – as well as Serco and Sodexo, the firm due to take over the contract to run HMP Northumberland later this year.
Northumbria Probation Trust supervises about 7,000 offenders and is the only one of 35 trusts across England and Wales to be rated ‘exceptional’ by Government inspectors for five consecutive years.
The strike – which was backed by 84 per cent of Napo members – will be the fourth in its history.
Jonelle Atkinson, a Napo member who works in South Tyneside and will be joining a picket line, said: “We believe in keeping the probation service public.
“It has worked for 101 years and if privatised will be put in the hands of companies who are interested in profit rather than rehabilitating offenders, minimising their risk for the community, protecting the public and saving lives.
“The probation service in South Tyneside is well respected amongst our partner agencies and mindful of the community. We are not lightly taking action but we have to make a stand against the plans.”
The strike will take place outside the probation office on Tuesday from noon.