Campaigners demand end to 'hostile takeover' of probation service

Locked up: The merger of prison and probation staff triggered a clash of cultures, opponents claim
Locked up: The merger of prison and probation staff triggered a clash of cultures, opponents claim

By Ian Dunt

Campaigners have seized on a report by the probation officers' union to demand an end to a government experiment merging prison and probation management.

The detailed briefing, from Napo, the probation officers' union, outlines the failures of the "bureaucratic and wasteful" National Offender Management Service (NOMS).

"NOMS has become a byword for waste, centralisation, bureaucracy and managerial gobbledygook," Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said.

"This top-heavy, opaque agency was meant to bring together prison and probation in 'end to end offender management'. But as the Napo briefing published today shows, in reality the prison and probation services have fundamentally different approaches to reducing re-offending as they work in completely separate environments.

"Given this, it is deeply worrying that NOMS has seen a 'hostile takeover' of the probation service, with senior prison managers with no experience of working in the community now calling the shots."

The pressure for change came from political parties as well. Plaid Cymru was among the voices demanding the experimental merger be brought to halt.

Plaid's Westminster leader and spokesperson for crime and justice Elfyn Llwyd said the project had been an abject failure.

"It is high time that this 'white elephant' of a project be completely scrapped," he said.

"I was against the idea from day one. Common sense told me that it would not be possible to have one authority dealing with both prison officers and also probation officers."

The Ministry of Justice was quick to defend the experiment, but insisted that the impending spending review would take NOMS performance into account.

"The NOMS Agency brought together staff at national and regional level to support the delivery of prison and probation services at a local level," a spokesperson said.

"This has streamlined management structures and reduced overhead costs by £34 million so that more resources are focused on frontline delivery.

"As part of the wider spending review, the government will take a root and branch look at the NOMS organisational structure."


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