THE part-privatisation of the probation service due to go live next week could increase crime levels, police and crime commissioners (PCCs) have warned.
PCCs in the region spoke out after an insider warned that the probation service in Darlington was in turmoil as staff prepared for the changes.
Durham PCC Ron Hogg said Durham Tees Valley Probation Trust which ran the service in Darlington had been assessed as excellent.
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"It has succeeded in reducing reoffending and is cost-effective," he added.
"Privatisation is a step into the unknown and is a potential threat to crime levels."
Cleveland PCC Barry Coppinger claimed that the overwhelming view within the criminal justice system was that the Government’s "headlong rush" to probation privatisation was ill-thought out and fraught with potential dangers.
He added: “The fragmentation which will occur as a result of putting what are categorised as low and medium risk offenders under the control of private contractors, whilst what is left of the public service is responsible for those classed as high risk is bound to increase risks - especially as in reality many offenders move between categories if the risk they pose to the public changes."
But North Yorkshire PCC Julia Mulligan said she was encouraged about how the Ministry of Justice was going about the reforms, despite initially having doubts.
"With about a quarter of offenders in England and Wales going on to reoffend within 12 months after release, it is vital that new ways are sought to reduce reoffending and improve performance. The status quo was simply not satisfactory.
“One of the important features of the new system is that offenders released from jail for sentences of under 12 months will now be supervised, whereas before they were not.
"In addition, Police and Crime Commissioners and local police forces are being offered significant input into the new system and helping ensure local needs are met."
A whistleblower told The Northern Echo earlier this week that staff at Darlington probation service were struggling to cope ahead of the part-privatisation which takes effect from Sunday.
Responsibility for the supervision of about 160,000 medium and low risk offenders a year will be passed to 21 privately-run community rehabilitation companies (CRCs).
Supervision of 31,000 high-risk offenders each year will remain in the public sector with the formation of a new National Probation Service.