The future of the Probation Service Contents


1.Probation is designed to protect the public and reduce reoffending by supervising offenders in the community and overseeing their rehabilitation.1 At 30 June 2020, some 224,587 people were under probation service supervision.2 Those on probation may have served a prison sentence and been released on licence or parole. Alternatively, they may be serving a non-custodial community sentence.3

2.Since 2014–15, probation services have been delivered in two ways as a result of substantial reform of a national probation system formerly organised on regional lines. The Transforming Rehabilitation programme divided the service into a National Probation Service (NPS) to deal with the most serious offenders and Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) run by private and/or third sector organisations. At June last year, offender supervision was near-equally split between the NPS and CRCs, with and 109,335 (48.7%) offenders supervised by the NPS and 115,252 (51.3%) by CRCs.

3.The reforms, introduced by the then Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling MP, have been controversial and, although short-lived, are being largely reversed with the establishment of a single national service capable of commissioning services from the private and/or third sectors. In July 2018, the then Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice David Gauke, announced that probation contracts with CRCs would be terminated 14 months early and launched a consultation on the future model of probation. A new model for probation was published in March 2020,4 and updated in June 2020;5 the model was published in February 2021.6

4.The controversy surrounding the short-lived 2014–15 split of services and the payment-by-results of CRCs has been amply covered, including critical reports from the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office and in two Justice Committee reports.7 Our inquiry has therefore focused on the new probation reform programme. Where lessons can be learned from the Transforming Rehabilitation programme’s clear failure, however, we will highlight them.

5.This latest phase of the Probation Reform Programme is, of course, also taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic period, which raises additional challenges both for reform of services and for the way in which services are delivered against that background of change. We reported last summer on the initial effect of the pandemic in “Coronavirus (COVID-19): The impact on probation services”.8

Our Inquiry

6.We set out to examine the proposed model for the new probation service and how well it addresses the problems identified under the Transforming Rehabilitation model. We launched our inquiry into The Future of the Probation Service on 21 July 2020 and have held three public evidence sessions. We also held a private focus group with service users facilitated by Revolving Doors, for whose help we are grateful.

7.We received more than 30 written submissions from individuals and organisations including providers of probation services, academics, and public and third sector organisations. All the evidence may be found on our website, along with the terms of reference.9 We thank all who gave oral and written evidence.

8.Finally, we are grateful to all the staff who work to reduce reoffending and to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes, not least for maintaining service levels over six years of near-continuous organisational change and a further 12 months of additional pressures arising from coronavirus. We thank, too, wider stakeholders for all the work they have done and are doing to respond to the pandemic, to support offenders and to protect the public.

1 Committee of Public Accounts, Ninety-Fourth Report of Session 2017–19, Transforming Rehabilitation: progress review, HC 1747

2 Ministry of Justice, Probation data (accessed 17 February 2021)

3 Ministry of Justice, ‘Probation’ (accessed 17 February 2021)

6 HMPPS, Probation Changes Bulletin - Issue 6 - August 2020 (accessed 17 February 2021)

7 Justice Committee Ninth Report of Session 2017–19, Transforming Rehabilitation, HC 482 and Justice Committee, Nineteenth Report of Session 2017–19, Transforming Rehabilitation: Follow-up, HC 2526

8 Justice Committee, Third Report of Session 2019–21, Coronavirus (COVID-19): The impact on probation systems, HC 461

9 Justice Committee, ‘The Future of the Probation Service’ (July 2020)

Published: 23 April 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement