Unions today warn putting private firm Sodexo in charge of a probation service in the region is a “dangerous gamble”.
The French firm, which has managed the 1,300-capacity HMP Northumberland since 2013, will take on the work of Northumbria Community Rehabilitation alongside charity Nacro.
In the Durham Tees Valley probation trust area, a joint venture between charities and social enterprises called ARCC (Achieving Real Change in Communities) will manage the service.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling says the reforms will “redouble” efforts to cut reoffending rates in the region.
But unions say the management of HMP Northumberland, where in March a riot broke out in which inmates took control of a wing, is evidence the contract should stay in public hands.
Mike Quinn, spokesperson for the Northumbria Branch of Napo, said: “It comes as no surprise that Sodexo have been named as preferred bidder for the Northumbria area.
“Their management of HMP Northumberland made it a racing certainty that they’d be offered a monopoly on punishment and rehabilitation in the area by the Government.”
Probation officers have previously told how they fear visiting HMP Northumberland where prison officer numbers dropped from 441 to 270 - a drop of 39% - between 2010 and 2013.
Mr Quinn added: “Our message to Chris Grayling is that we won’t sit by and let the public be put at risk by his dangerous privatisation plans. This dangerous gamble has got to stop.
“By placing the responsibility for the protection of the public into the hands of private companies he is doing little more than lining the pockets of shareholders at the expense of public safety.
“Sodexo have a far from glowing track record at HMP Northumberland, with the last six months seeing disturbances, lost knives and staff assaults.”
Frances Crook, chief executive of the charity the Howard League for Penal Reform, said private firms now dominate rehabilitation services.
She said: “As we expected, the big winner of the probation sell-off is not the voluntary sector but large private companies run for profit.
“The Ministry of Justice will claim it has created a diverse market, but Sodexo and Interserve are the companies running half of all the contracts.
Tony Leech, managing director of Sodexo Justice Services, said: “Sodexo and Nacro bring together significant experience in rehabilitation and share a strong mission to reduce crime and reoffending by challenging offender behaviour and providing the skills, training and support offenders require to move into employment.
“Sodexo has 20 years’ experience in the UK justice sector as a trusted partner to the Ministry of Justice and the National Offender Management Service, delivering high-quality, ethical and innovative rehabilitative services.”
Jacob Tas, Nacro’s chief executive officer, said: “Nacro’s strong track record of providing services in the heart of local communities brings the real potential to reduce reoffending and improve public confidence in the system.”