Campaign launched to reverse disaster that is the Tories’ probation sell-off

With probation firms failing to deliver, campaigners are demanding an end to the privatised mess.

When private probation company Working Links fell into administration earlier this month, the public got an insight into the disaster that the government’s privatised probation system has been.

On the same day that Working Links collapsed, the Chief Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, released a damning report into the company’s performance – finding that the company had a severe lack of capacity to deliver high quality services. It found that leadership, staffing, services, planning, implementation and delivery were all inadequate at the company. So, pretty much everything, then.

If the collapse of Working Links was cause for concern, revelations in Wednesday’s Mirror should put a stop to the dangerous experiment once and for all.

The paper found that criminals monitored by probation contractors have killed 225 in the four years since privatisation – compared to 142 murders over the same time by higher risk offenders overseen by the state-run probation service.

It is likely to send the campaign for probation services to re-nationalised into overdrive.

Probation services were part-privatised in 2014 during Chris Grayling’s time as Justice Secretary. That should say it all…

The policy saw 70% of the probation service – covering “low risk” offenders – contracted to ‘Community Rehabilitation Companies’. 21 of these CRCs were set up and awarded seven-year contracts worth a total of £3.7bn in 2014. Yet nearly all have reported making losses, leading many of them to be handed fresh handouts from the taxpayer.

The result was branded a ‘mess’ by the Justice Committee last year, with a report by the Parliamentary committee finding privatisation had failed to significantly reduce re-offending, while complicating the delivery of services and causing low morale among staff. Private firms had mopped up nearly all the contracts, despite initial claims that charities would play a leading role.

Now a coalition of unions and campaigners has come together to demand that Justice Secretary David Gauke bring the probation service back into public ownership.

The campaign is being backed by Napo – the trade union that represents probation staff – as well as Unison, GMB and the New Economics Foundation.

Speaking on the launch of the new campaign, We Own It campaigns officer Ellen Lees said:

“A well trained, capable and well-funded probation service is vital for public safety, and for rehabilitating former prisoners into society.

“Since probation has been privatised, we’ve seen private companies repeatedly fail to meet targets, downward pressure on working conditions of probation staff and the number of convicts committing a serious further offence while under probation increase by 20%.

“Worse still, as the Working Links collapse shows, private companies, affected by market forces, are ill equipped to deliver such a vital service.

“Enough is enough. It’s time to bring probation services into public ownership once and for all.”

In an interview with LFF last year, Ian Lawrence, General Secretary of Napo said:

“It is clear [the Tories] are wedded to a failed and unworkable ideology, and cannot accept the undeniable fact that justice and public safety cannot be subject to the rule of supply and demand.”

Probation expert Dr Christine Hough has written: “The consequences of this part-privatisation of the probation services have proved disastrous. There have been large scale redundancies of probation managers, prisoners receiving insufficient support for their resettlement, and reoffending rates remain high.”

Labour have branded probation privatisation a ‘costly failure’ and vowed to end the ‘scandal’.

More than 5,000 people have signed We Own It’s petition to re-nationalise the probation service in less than 24 hours.

See also: “How privatising probation services has damaged our justice system”

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