Chris Grayling has slammed critics of his probation reforms and promised there will be no casualties as a result of the changes.

Speaking ahead of an anti-privatisation rally against his proposals, to be held in Epsom town centre on Saturday, Mr Grayling said his plans will not put the public in danger and the probation union should stop its "pointless opposition" to them.

Members of Napo, the National Association of Probation Officers, from the Kent, Surrey and Sussex (KSS), and London branches, will be attending the protest, which will include a march through the town centre carrying a huge effigy of the Justice Secretary, followed by a rally.

The campaigners are against Mr Grayling’s plans to award private sector and voluntary bidders contracts to deal with the low- and medium-risk offenders, which are to be decided on by the Lord Chancellor by the end of the year.  

While the new public sector National Probation Service will manage high-risk offenders and will be responsible for initial risk assessments of all offenders, 21 new regional Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) will deal with the low- and medium-risk offenders and will only earn their full fee if they reduce reoffending – ‘payment by results’.

The Ministry of Justice has said that the changes are necessary to pay for support for an extra 50,000 offenders a year who are currently given no statutory help from the Probation Service on release from prison.  

It has said that 57.5 per cent of offenders released from prison after serving sentences of less than 12 months reoffend within a year. 

Speaking exclusively to the Epsom Guardian ahead of the rally, Mr Grayling said his changes aim to transform rehabilitation, reduce reoffending rates and allow the service the "freedom to innovate" - something he said cannot be found in the public sector for a variety of reasons. 

"Crime is falling which is good.  The number of first-time offenders is falling which is good," Mr Grayling said.

"The problem we have is that of people going round and round the system.  

"Reoffending rates have barely changed for a decade.

"Approximately 62 per cent of offenders sentenced to less than 12 months in High Down leave the prison and reoffend quite quickly.

"We want to set up a new model for rehabilitation and reoffending which makes the best use of the public, private and voluntary sectors.

"The public, in managing risk.  The private, to help streamline the system and create efficiency.  And the voluntary sector, to bring in mentoring skills for offenders who have troubled backgrounds and come from broken homes.

"The aim has been to reshape the system so we have CRCs run by a mixture of private and voluntary sector groups focusing on mentoring, who will only earn their full fee if they are successful in bringing down the rate of reoffending.

"The National Probation Service will manage the most serious offenders to which it brings a high level of specialism.

"The probation budget has been protected.  

"It’s not about saving money.  

"It’s about developing the best and most innovative approach to reducing reoffending.

"It’s about quality not cost."

Mr Grayling said that, as part of the changes, some areas of probation which have been "too expensive", such as the use of Community Payback, have been re-evaluated.

He said he is also pioneering a ‘through the gate’ approach which will allow people working with offenders to lay the groundwork for rehabilitation behind the prison walls and continue that work in the community when they are released.

"This is not just a reform of the probation service but also reform in the prison estate through the creation of a network of resettlement prisons which will play a specific role in preparing offenders for release in the last few months of their sentences in the areas they will be released," Mr Grayling added.

"We can plan what’s going to happen with them and this hasn’t happened before."

Napo has argued that the public will be put in danger by the reforms as the ‘risk’ associated with an offender can change at any time and professionally-trained staff should be dealing with those deemed to be low- and medium-risk, as well as high-risk offenders, in a unified service. 

But Mr Grayling said: "This is not true.  I wouldn’t take the Probation Union’s view on this.  

"I have asked the Probation Inspectorate if they discover anything in the reforms or how they are being implemented which would put the public at risk.  

"They have not come back to me and said this.

"The Probation Union is simply anti-change.

"It has just carried out a staff survey on the changes.  Just 10 per cent bothered to respond.  

"I don’t think the union is representing the true views of its staff.

"Many have been unhappy and uncertain but my experience around the country has been one of overwhelming desire to get on with the job.  

"I’m now talking to probation officers who are saying they are open to change."

The new probation structure has been in place since June 1, with the CRCs remaining in the public sector until new private and voluntary sector groups take over next year.

The MoJ has said that more than 80 bids for the CRCs are currently being evaluated from a mixture of organisations including charities experienced in tackling issues affecting offenders, small and large British businesses and multinationals all experienced in working in the criminal justice system or with offenders. 

Mr Grayling said his Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Government are behind the reforms, including Justice Minister Simon Hughes who he said is "completely supportive". 

"The irony is the Labour party passed legislation to reform the probation service which is allowing these reforms to happen," he added.

Asked about Saturday’s rally, Mr Grayling said: "It’s a free country and they are entirely at liberty to come through the centre of Epsom.

"It’s ideological opposition.  

"They want to stay entirely in the public sector, but the service needs the freedom to innovate and you won’t find this in the public sector for a variety of reasons." 

The march will begin outside the Epsom Playhouse, in Ashley Avenue, at 11am.