Would you hand supervision of offenders to companies with no experience of providing probation services?

The government's plans to sell-off the probation service will be pushed to a vote on today by Labour MPs.

Jenny Chapman MP is a shadow justice minister

The government’s plans to sell-off the probation service will be pushed to a vote on today by Labour MPs.

Supervision of the majority of offenders in the community will be handed over to companies with no experience of providing probation services, some of which are themselves currently subject to criminal investigation for fraud.

Probation reform needs to be piloted so that mistakes can be put right. But there has been no piloting, no evaluation and no effort to check if this actually works, how well it works, or how it could work better. Instead the justice secretary has given us a personal assurance that he just ‘believes’ this is the right way to go. 

Although the government insists that companies will be paid only for what works, the majority of the cost will be paid up front regardless of performance. The government still do not know how expensive the new arrangements will be. The Ministry of Justice is about to sign the tax payer up to contracts worth 450 million lasting seven to 10 years without trialling the new arrangements. This isn’t just irresponsible, it’s downright risky.

Reoffending rates in this country are too high, with 46 per cent of criminals reoffending after release; but those supervised by Probation officers have a much lower chance of reoffending. Probation is a tough job that prevents crime and protects the public.

The justice secretary assures the public that only low and medium risk offenders will be supervised by the new providers. What he knows but doesn’t say is that low and medium risk offenders include those who have committed burglary, violence against the person, sexual assault, domestic violence and more. This is a high risk strategy that the government’s own assessment predicts will result in a drop in performance.

The plans will see the service broken up. When risk quickly escalates the offender will have to be passed between providers. This creates unnecessary bureaucracy, delay and confusion at exactly the moment when an offender poses the highest risk of harm.

The secretary of state wants to complete the sale of Probation services by May 2015. He knows no new government would contemplate pursuing such a dangerous initiative.

This is not an informed practical deadline, but a political cut-off point. His timetable has been described by an ex-chief inspector of prisons as ‘bearing no relation to practical reality’, while the chairs of at least three Probation Trust Boards have written to the secretary of state individually to warn him that he must slow down or risk serious public protection failures.

Those implementing the reforms do not ‘just believe’.

The House of Lords voted to stop the justice’s secretary half-baked plans, and Labour MPs want to do the same when the Offender Rehabilitation Bill reaches committee stage today.

With proper piloting and a realistic timetable, in collaboration with experienced practitioners, we could devise a new probation system that would supervise all offenders well and cut crime as well as costs. The government is wrong to miss that opportunity.

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10 Responses to “Would you hand supervision of offenders to companies with no experience of providing probation services?”

  1. Verity Ⓥ

    Shrinking of the state at any cost.

  2. Jessica Page

    One word ‘G4S’ and it that doesn’t incite terror, i don’t know what does.

  3. blarg1987

    I wonder would the justice secretary be held personnaly accountable for any future failures or cock ups should the privatisation fail. Or just like with CCG their will be a clause written in in that they will not be held accountable for providing this service in future.

    What LFF should do is investigate these links and possible corruption and refer it to committee in parliament and keep on with it. I am sure many in the media would jump on the bandwagon and leave certain MP’s a bit flustered.

  4. Boston_scoundrel

    If competition for probation services is such a terrible idea, why did the previous Labour government first propose such an approach in 2005, without any kind of pilot? Cheap political points, nothing more and nothing less

  5. Tolkny

    You are exactly right to focus on the movement of probation clients between supervisors and agencies.

    In my 30 year probation service experience the best work usually seems to happen where trusting professional relationships are built up between one supervisor and one client – Intimate disclosure may be more likely , piecemeal over a period, that is unlikely to happen when an NPS officer is called in to respond to a crisis when they might be the third or fourth probation person, a supervisee might meet in a relatively short contact from pre release report over perhaps a 3 to 12 month period.

  6. Tolkny

    It is not so much the competition that is bad but the dividing up the work on the basis of some notion of ‘risk’ which is very hard to be precise about, despite computerised calculations which can tend to produce reports that ‘look’ convincing, but in truth are not as sound as when the assessment is based totally on a human professional calculation, with at its heart the fact that (as it used to be) if I tell the court I think this person can respond to a non custodial sentence – I personally am going to have the responsibility to make it work, so my whole outlook is based on that from the first moment of the first contact, be that in a court, police or prison cell, office meeting or home visit!

  7. Boston_scoundrel

    I dont disagree with that criticism. The better option would be to compete the whole service and maintain the integrity of offender management. And the public sector should be able to compete on a level playing field.

    The cheap political shot above is the suggestion that competition, by its nature is wrong.

  8. MC

    The clue is in the title – Would you hand supervision of offenders to companies with no experience of providing probation services? – This Government is not concerned regarding that statement, what they are concerned about is saving money…never mind the consequences as we are seeing with the prison service. They care just as less for the prisoner as they do for the staff – prison and probation services. To cut staff numbers back to the point that the job becomes even more dangerous is just ridiculous; but hey, lets build a prison where the prisoners can get on the roof, not once but twice in 6 weeks (namely Oakwood, or should that be ‘Jokewood’) Lets put young inexperienced people in there in a nice new uniform with no ‘life’ experience to manage these people. Let the prisoners have access to drugs easier than getting a bar of soap and lets shut down, yes, expensive to run old prisons…but never forget, very well run prisons with experienced and well respected staff. Give these prisons to the likes of G4S to run. Who could be behind this recipe of disaster? Yes folks, its the one and only …Mr Chris Grayling!!! Surely Mr PM, can’t you see what’s going wrong with the prison/probation services. Why not put someone in charge who has come through the ranks of the prison service and has an outstanding record of achievements whilst doing that job?

  9. terry

    I think you will be surprised how many of the bids for probation are from not-for-profits, charities and people who already work very effectively with offenders and ex-offenders and know rehabilitation inside out. The likes of Serco and G4S will be in the minority and will be unlikely to win in many of the areas.

  10. danny Clarke

    I hear even bodies concerns and at the same time i think that new ways of working with offenders needs to start because the risk of people reoffending continues to be very high. Therefore new holisic packages for working with offenders needs to be put into place so that they can be given training in practical skills for gaining Jobs because in a lot of crimes re tolerated to offending is about obtaing money. For to long probation officers have just been monitoring and devicing therapeutic ways of working with offenders without putting more pressure on the Government to help them get back into work. Only when this concept is worked towards will the likelyhood of cutting the level of reoffending will there be a cut in level of real offending.

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