DEATHS of offenders while on probation in West Yorkshire has increased by 138% over the last three years.

The number of people who died while under the supervision of West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company increased year on year since 2015/16, when 16 people died.

The following year, in 2016/17, there were 27 recorded deaths and in 2017/18, 38 people died.

Twenty of these deaths were classed as self-inflicted, 24 were natural causes, seven were accidental and one was a homicide. The remainder were recorded as unclassified.

The Probation Service's caseload fluctuated over the same amount of time. In 2015/16 there were 6,793 people under supervision in West Yorkshire. This increased to 7,389 in 2016/17 , but dropped to 6,918 in 2017/18.

The arrangements for managing offenders were overhauled in 2014, with the probation service split in two.

A new state body, the National Probation Service (NPS), which has eight divisions, was set up to supervise high-risk offenders, with 21 privately run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) supervising low and medium-risk offenders.

But the partial privatisation of of probation has been beset with criticism in recent months. In March, the National Audit Office said the number of people returning to prison for breaching their licence conditions had "skyrocketed".

Last year, 966 deaths of ex prisoners were recorded across the country, compared to 752 in 2015-16, the first year when the government’s restructure of the Probation Service took effect. At this point, an additional 40,000 people came under supervision.

Frances Cook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Most significantly, it highlights the continued failure of private probation companies to keep people safe. Whereas before we had a successful publicly-run probation service with qualified and trained staff who saw their mission as befriending and turning lives around, we now have a fragmented service with a tick-box culture where some people have not even met face-to-face."

The Ministry of Justice has said it is important to note the difficulties in obtaining conclusive information about an offender’s cause of death. Whilst the primary role of probation is to protect the public and prevent reoffending, it does not have sole responsibility for caring for offenders.

A spokesperson for West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) said: “Unfortunately, out of the 9,000 people under the supervision of West Yorkshire CRC a small percentage of people do die while on probation, whether through natural causes or accidents. However, we remain committed to supporting offenders through their rehabilitation and protecting the public.”