Voluntary organisations should be directly commissioned by government to provide probation services and funded by grants rather than contracts, according to the criminal justice umbrella body Clinks.
These were among five recommendations made today by Jess Mullen, head of policy and communications at Clinks, in a blog about the Ministry of Justice's plans to review probation services.
Mullen urged the MoJ to "seize the opportunity" to devise a model that addresses the flaws of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, which is due to be replaced.
"If they don’t, there is a danger that voluntary organisations will decide that getting involved in the delivery of future probation services presents too great a risk," she blogged.
"As a result, statutory services will lose the support of the sector’s 300-year legacy, experience and knowledge of working with people under probation supervision."
In 2013, Transforming Rehabilitation replaced the 35 probation trusts with a single National Probation Service for managing high-risk offenders and 21 community rehabilitation companies for managing low to medium-risk offenders in England and Wales.
Chris Grayling, the minister who introduced the programme, hailed it as an opportunity for more small charities to be involved as subcontractors in probation services.
But the programme has been beset by problems, including the collapse of the prime contractor, Working Links.
Clinks was part of the TrackTR partnership project that monitored the third sector's role, which concluded its involvement was "low" and "many smaller organisations have not been engaged in any meaningful way".
The government has said it will introduce a new model for probation from 2020, but Mullen told Third Sector its proposals were "tweaks" rather than substantial changes.
She said the failure of Transforming Rehabilitation had left numerous voluntary organisations facing uncertain futures, and her recommendations would help to avoid a repeat.
Contracting directly with a public probation service would, she argued, simplify the system, and grant-making "would reduce complex and expensive commissioning processes, sustain vital effective services and provide flexibility to give charities the space to innovate and find the best solutions for service users".
Mullen also called for commissioning strategies to reflect local needs and work with "the eco system of voluntary sector organisations in each locality".