Back in 2014, Chris Grayling introduced the privatisation of the probation service. The system was heavily criticised by MP’s and Mary’s story demonstrates just what was going wrong.

Several years ago, along with an accomplice, I “earned” approximately £2000 by claiming refunds for items I owned which I declared were faulty when in fact they were not – this is legally defined as fraud by false representation. I claimed for 6 items in total over a 2 week period before realising how stupid I had been.

Approximately 6 months later and totally out of the blue, I received a text message from my accomplice telling me that he’d just been raided by the police; his computers had been seized and he’d been asked to attend a voluntary interview at the police station. He was advised by his solicitor to do a ‘no comment’ interview.

As you can imagine, I was extremely worried that the police would visit me too; every night I went to bed not knowing whether I’d get a knock on the door the next day. It finally came 4 months later.

The police removed all of my electronic devices and ‘invited’ me to attend an interview and it was only then that I discovered my accomplice had continued with his offending behaviour.

To start with, our case went to the Magistrates Court but was then transferred to the Crown Court. Prior to my appearance in court I was sent a letter by the probation team with a whole raft of questions, for example “what had led to my offending, what were the chances of my offending again?” Considering I’d not entered any plea, it felt quite presumptuous of probation to assume I was guilty.

At the end of the court hearing I was sentenced to 9 months in prison, suspended for two years with a requirement to attend sessions with my probation officer throughout my sentence.

I received my first letter from probation a month later and was surprised to read that I’d apparently missed my initial appointment and, unless I could explain my reasons for this within the next 5 days, I would be returned to court. Of course, I contacted my probation officer immediately and she accepted my explanation that I’d never received any details of that first appointment.

Over the next month, I attended four meetings before being told that the probation office would be closing but I’d be sent details of the new office to report to. I heard nothing more for 4 months and, growing more and more concerned that I should have been attending meetings, I rang the office. I was told that my probation officer was away but she’d call me back.

A further 2.5 months passed before I was given another appointment and this was only because I’d made it my business to chase up probation. On the day of my meeting, my ‘usual’ probation officer wasn’t available and so I was seen by somebody else. Once again, I was told I’d be sent a follow up appointment and once again, I heard nothing.

I’m sure I’d have heard nothing more from probation were in not for the fact that I decided to enrol for a course at my local college. As my conviction was still unspent I had to disclose it and I was asked by the college to attend a risk assessment and also, to provide the contact details for my probation officer.

This appeared to spark some renewed interest from probation and I went on to have another two meetings until once again, my officer went off sick. Once again, this lack of a named probation officer resulted in another allegation of a missed appointment and a further letter threatening me with a return to court.

This catalogue of errors must be hard to believe but I can assure you that I’m not the only one. The following was a headline in The Times newspaper:

Public at risk after privatised probation firm lost offenders.

The paper reported that a probation company had lost track of individuals it was supervising and others hadn’t been seen for months. It highlighted a combination of unmanageable caseloads and inexperienced officers.

I did everything I could to try to engage with probation. I didn’t want to miss appointments, my only wish was to complete the sentence given to me and move on.

I hope that once the probation service is bought back under public control early next year, we’ll no longer see this kind of mismanagement happening again.

By Mary (name changed to protect identity)

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