Plaid Cymru leader and former probation officer Leanne Wood will today call on the UK Government to abandon “dangerous” plans to allow private companies to supervise people released from jail.
Ms Wood will tell a conference that responsibility for the probation service should be transferred to the Welsh Government and call for Wales to have its own criminal justice system.
Her call comes as concern grows among lawyers at plans to transform legal aid provision in an effort to slash the cost to the taxpayer.
Ms Wood is opposed to proposals which could mean much offender management is carried out by private companies and charities.
The Plaid leader will argue the time has come for Wales, like Scotland and Northern Ireland, to have its own justice system.
Accusing the UK Government of “embarking upon a dangerous, ideology-driven path to privatise services which should not be in private hands”, she will say: “Those assessed as low or medium risk offenders can change quickly and so the private companies charged with supervising those people unlikely to be able to deal with those changes. It makes no sense to split the service between public/private low or medium/high-risk in this way…
“We have also see the closure of local magistrates’ courts and police stations, cuts to legal aid and new proposals that would limit the choice of solicitors, as well as pointless police commissioners.
“It is clear that if we want a justice system that is in line with our political values here in Wales, then responsibility for the whole of the criminal justice system should be devolved to us here in Wales.
“If both Scotland and the north of Ireland can successfully run a criminal justice system that reflects their values then a Welsh way of justice would be equally successful.”
Megan Elliott, national vice-chair of probation officers union Napo, said: “Napo welcomes Plaid Cymru’s support to resist the proposals to outsource 70% of the core work of the probation service to private companies. These proposals amount to nothing less than a huge gamble with public safety…
“This will include tens of thousands of people who have been convicted of serious offences including violence, domestic abuse and sexual offences. The probation service is being dismantled for no reason other than political dogma. Its performance is excellent.
“Reoffending rates are at their lowest level for five years. It is victims and the general public who will pay the price while multinational companies rake in profits from the taxpayer.”
North Wales Conservative AM Mark Isherwood said: “Leanne Wood’s nationalists seem to think their ideological position of the big state taking powers away from communities is the answer to everything. The delivery of probation services through the voluntary sector has actually been widely praised, is better trusted and is often better equipped to reach our most deprived communities.
“It is disappointing to see Plaid Cymru misrepresenting this as privatisation and yet again putting their narrow ideological interests before those of ordinary hardworking people.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “The First Minister has made clear we are not in favour of privatising the probation service. In our response to the Ministry of Justice consultation, we stressed our preference would be to see delivery led by the public sector Probation Service, with strong partnerships with the Third Sector. Indications are the UK Government has taken this on board and the new public sector Probation Service will have a distinct Welsh identity in order to facilitate links with the Welsh Government.
“On further powers, we made our submission to the Commission on Devolution in Wales (Silk Part II) in February. Our submission stated in the long term, the criminal justice system should be devolved, including the courts, prisons and probation, so the Welsh Government can respond to the particular challenges of crime in Wales, working with already devolved services to promote prevention and rehabilitation. We now look forward to seeing what recommendations the Commission proposes.”