Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster

The Howard League for Penal Reform has today published its response to the government’s justice green paper, 'Breaking the cycle: effective punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders'.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has today published its response to the government’s justice green paper, ‘Breaking the cycle: effective punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders’; Sophie Willett reports

The call for reform is a welcome break from the punitive rhetoric that has dominated the criminal justice debate for the past two decades; however, scratching beneath the surface reveals some worrying gaps in provision.

The government has indicated its intention to dramatically reduce the number of probation officers. The probation union NAPO (the National Association of Probation Officers) has estimated that staff could be cut by up to 25% by the government’s budget cuts.

However, it is the probation service that would be required to commission, supervise and make community sentences work. If the government is serious about reducing the prison population, then the probation service will be required to work with more individuals. Given the service is already overstretched and under resourced, cuts could pave the way to disaster.

It is perfectly possible to achieve less crime, safer communities, and fewer people in prison. In Canada during the 1990s cuts to public spending saw the prison population reduced by 11%. During that decade, crime also fell to its lowest rate for 25 years, including drops ranging from 23% for assault and robbery to 43% for homicide.

But the key is that any savings realised from reducing the prison population does not simply wing its way straight into Treasury coffers. A properly strategic approach to reform would see at least some of the savings reinvested into community provision. Indeed, we would argue that the probation service needs this funding so that community sentences can be strengthened: to make them both more immediate and more intensive.

Ultimately, reforming community sentences will cost money. The government’s answer is to pilot an untried and untested payment-by-results approach, but even if that was to work it could not be rolled out to scale for many years. In the meantime, the Ministry of Justice will have to cut its budget by 6% year on year, and the pressure across prisons and probation will be immense.

MPs from all sides of the House agree that we cannot continue to prop up such a bloated criminal justice system. Having so many people in prison does not make society safer and it is simply unaffordable.

Nonetheless, attempting to reduce the prison population while reducing probation budgets represents a clear and present danger that may scupper the rehabilitation revolution before it has even started.

25 Responses to “Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster”

  1. Kevin Dykes

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster: http://bit.ly/fMU44l writes @TheHowardLeague's Sophie Willett

  2. False Economy

    Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster: http://bit.ly/fMU44l writes @TheHowardLeague's Sophie Willett (via @leftfootfwd)

  3. Phil McDuff

    RT @FalseEcon: Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster: http://bit.ly/fMU44l writes @TheHowardLeague's Sophie Willett ( …

  4. L DTUC

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster http://bit.ly/hUv4gu

  5. Andrew Neilson

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster: http://bit.ly/fMU44l writes @TheHowardLeague's Sophie Willett

  6. Richard Murphy

    RT @FalseEcon: Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster: http://bit.ly/fMU44l writes @TheHowardLeague's Sophie Willett ( …

  7. Riven

    RT @FalseEcon: Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster: http://bit.ly/fMU44l writes @TheHowardLeague's Sophie Willett ( …

  8. Tacitus

    Sounds like another well thought out Tory strategy. Empty the prisons, but take away the aftercare support. Still, I am not surprised – today I heard of 700 redundancies in the welfare to work sector. Frontline workers who have dedicated themselves to getting people back into work. Their thanks – joblessness.

    Yup, the Tories really are the caring party.

  9. CJA

    'Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster', @TheHowardLeague argues on @leftfootfwd http://bit.ly/hvRrhL

  10. Sue Allan

    RT @cjalliance: 'Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster', @TheHowardLeague argues on @leftfootfwd http://bit.ly/hvRrhL

  11. Brian Stout

    RT @cjalliance: 'Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster', @TheHowardLeague argues on @leftfootfwd http://bit.ly/hvRrhL

  12. Young Fdn Justice

    RT @cjalliance: 'Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster', @TheHowardLeague argues on @leftfootfwd http://bit.ly/hvRrhL

  13. Mr. Sensible

    Sophie, as I have said before on this issue, I think the focus on cost cutting is stifling the chance for genuine debate on sentencing.

  14. Save PDS

    RT @FalseEcon: Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster: http://bit.ly/fMU44l writes @TheHowardLeague's Sophie Willett ( …

  15. The Howard League

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster http://bit.ly/hUv4gu

  16. Hayley Moseley

    RT @TheHowardLeague: RT @leftfootfwd: Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster http://bit.ly/hUv4gu

  17. Julia Hines

    RT @TheHowardLeague: RT @leftfootfwd: Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster http://bit.ly/hUv4gu

  18. Sue Allan

    RT @TheHowardLeague: RT @leftfootfwd: Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster http://bit.ly/hUv4gu

  19. Daniel Mayhew

    RT @TheHowardLeague: RT @leftfootfwd: Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster http://bit.ly/hUv4gu

  20. CEP

    RT @TheHowardLeague: RT @leftfootfwd: Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster http://bit.ly/hUv4gu

  21. Tom Gash

    There was no way that probation would escape the axe, even with the ‘rehabilitation revolution’. The problem currently is that we try to pretend that we give all prisoners a fairly good package of aftercare support. We don’t. We should be honest and admit that there are two types of probation. The first is a simple tracking system, like that used in New York, where probationers simply log in electronically with a thumb print. This means you know where offenders are and represents the fact that the restrictions on liberty accompanying their original sentence still apply. The second is proper rehabilitation support, which is an expensive wraparound service that should be targeted either where there are real concerns for public safety (e.g. MAPPA) or where there is greatest need/ potential for change. Rationing is unpopular and politicians will be loathe to admit it’s going on but the trick to coping with cuts will be segmenting the probation population wisely and allocating limited resource where they’ll have the greatest effect.

  22. Daniel Pitt

    Probation service cuts pave the way to disaster http://bit.ly/fMU44l #ConDemNation

  23. Community or Custody? How best do we deliver justice | Left Foot Forward

    […] Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disaster – Sophie Willett, March 14th […]

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