PROBATION officers are planning to picket courts and offices during a strike over government proposals to privatise most of their work.

Court work is expected to be disrupted and appointments cancelled as the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) stage a day and a half long strike starting at midday today.

The service is responsible for supervising offenders who are sentenced to community orders or those released from prison on licence as well as assisting the victims of serious crime.

But the government plans to outsource most of the work done from this June, with low and medium risk offenders to private firms and voluntary groups.

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of NAPO, has described the move as “a recklessly dangerous social experiment”.

But the government says reforms are needed to address reoffending rates and the support available to offenders given short sentences.

Ted Johnston, NAPO’s Manchester branch secretary, said: “The bottom line is we are fighting against the privatisation of 70 per cent of our service, on the grounds that it has been rushed through.

“The proposals have not been tried or tested and that puts the public at risk.”

Bolton probation officers will walk out today at noon before making their way from the probation office to Bolton Magistrates Court for 12.30pm where they will be joined by solicitors campaigning against legal aid cuts.

This will be followed by a Greater Manchester-wide protest in Crown Square in the city centre tomorrow (April 1) at 1pm.

Some disruption is expected to the work of the probation service in Bolton, but not all probation officers are members of the union and so the extent of delays to appointments and court work is not yet known.