May 16, 2019 / 8:20 AM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 1-Britain to renationalise probation services after failed privatisation

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By Andrew MacAskill

LONDON, May 16 (Reuters) - The British government will renationalise the management of probation services in England and Wales five years after a heavily criticised programme of privatisation was deemed to have put members of the public at risk.

The supervision of about 200,000 low and medium-risk offenders will be removed from part-private companies and taken over by the government when the current contracts end in December 2020, said Justice Minister David Gauke.

The existing model was intended to drive down re-offending levels when it was introduced but the chief inspector of probation, described the system last month as being "irredeemably flawed".

The probation watchdog had previously found thousands of offenders were being managed by a brief phone call once every six weeks. Some prisoners were being given tents on their release from jails, an inquiry into homelessness published in March found.

"Delivering a stronger probation system, which commands the confidence of the courts and better protects the public, is a pillar of our reforms to focus on rehabilitation and cut reoffending," Gauke said.

The U-turn marks a fresh embarrassment for Transport Minister Chris Grayling, who introduced the shake-up when he was justice secretary and has been dubbed "Failing Grayling" by the British press.

In his current job, Grayling awarded a 14 million pound ($18 million) contract for companies to ferry in essential supplies to Britain in the event of a no-deal Brexit to a company that owned no boats.

The decision to partially privatise the probation service was heavily criticised at the time.

Companies including France's Sodexo, the United States' MTCnovo and British firms Working Links and Interserve have been given contracts to oversee probation services.

The government has already announced it would abolish the use of handing out of new contracts to private companies to run government projects after reviews revealed little evidence of financial benefits.

It has also moved to strip some companies of their contracts because of poor performance or due to financial trouble.

Last month, the government announced it was taking over the running of a Birmingham prison from private operator after inmate violence made it unmanageable.

Last year the collapse of Carillion, one of the biggest beneficiaries of such privatisation contracts, forced the government to step in to guarantee services ranging from school meals to roadworks that the company had previously provided.

A few months later, it renationalised the rail route between London and Edinburgh, taking back the line from a private company after it over-estimated profits.

$1 = 0.7788 pounds Reporting By Andrew MacAskill; editing by John Stonestreet

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