THE CRISIS caused by the privatisation of the probation system in England and Wales has cost taxpayers almost £500m, the government’s National Audit Office says.

The privatisation drive which began in 2013, saw private care companies handed the supervision of low and medium-risk offenders.

The National Audit Office now says that ‘reforms’ were ‘rushed’ and the numbers returning to prison for breaching their licence conditions ‘skyrocketed’ as a more hostile environment was created.

Prior to the reforms, which were designed to drive down re-offending rates, convicts who had served less than one year did not have to be supervised by probation services.

But from 2015, every criminal given a custodial sentence became subject to statutory supervision and rehabilitation upon release into the community.

The NAO report said that between January 2015 and September 2018, the number of offenders recalled to prison for breaching their licence condition increased by almost half, from 4,240 to 6,240.

Over the same period, the percentage of offenders recalled to custody who had received sentences of less than 12 months increased from 3% to 36%.

21 companies – community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) – monitored people who had been released from jail after serving short sentences.

The attempt to make a profit out of probation collapsed when by March 2018, the CRCs were facing losses of £294m over the lifetime of their contracts – compared with the profits of £269m they had been expecting to start with.

Four months later, the government acknowledged that the quality of probation services being delivered was not good enough and announced the MoJ would end the contracts with the CRCs in 2020 – 14 months early.

The report estimates that additional payments to CRCs beyond the original terms of the contracts will cost the department £296m, and terminating the contracts early will cost at least £171m. The full cost to the taxpayer will not be known until at least December 2020, the report says.

Commenting on the National Audit Office’s Transforming Rehabilitation: Progress Review published yesterday, Unison national officer Ben Priestley said: ‘Rather than ploughing on regardless with a failed system, the Justice Secretary must now take control and bring these contracts back into public ownership.’