Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Tories to privatise Probation Service

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The Conservatives have announced that, within 18 months of coming to power, the first contract will be signed with a private provider to deliver rehabilitation programmes for people serving non-custodial sentences signalling what the FT says ‘represent[s] the latest example of the private sector pushing back the boundaries of traditionally state-provided services’ (FT.com). At least the Conservatives are being up front with this rather than the ‘privatisation creep’ which has been a feature of the Labour party’s approach to privatisation (or contestability as they prefer to call it) and the Probation Service.

Several services key to probationers’ rehabilitation are already being delivered by private and third sector organisations, particularly employment and training services, housing advice, drug treatment and (arguably not to do with their rehabilitation) the electronic monitoring of offenders. Moreover, they already work on a kind or performance related pay system which relies on 12 month contracts and arbitrary targets (for example, when I worked for progress2work, we had to find 5 people a job each month regardless of the job market, had to get 10 people into some kind of training but got no credit for someone doing voluntary work. If we didn’t hit our targets we got told off by the commissioning body and were threatened with contract revocation- not very morale boosting to say the least!). The Conservatives are proposing that ‘private and voluntary sectors … take over the post-prison rehabilitation of all but the most hardened criminals in an attempt to drive down high levels of reoffending’ implying that less serious offenders only need such practical help as to how to find a job or a house and how to give up drugs. True, these factors are important as part of a person’s rehabilitation but, as a probation officer said to me recently, ‘they [the government] just have no idea how chaotic these people’s lives are… getting a job might be a great result for one person but just getting out of bed before 12 will be an even greater achievement for someone else’ and so how this kind of work will be measured under a system which ‘“pays by results” for keeping an individual out of jail for fixed periods such as six months, a year or two years’ (FT.com) is beyond me. This less tangible impact, which represents the first small steps towards a person’s reintegration into society, on a person’s life is the kind of thing an offender manager (probation officer) tries to do with no desire or need for performance related pay structures.

In order to do this, the Tories will be using the Offender Management Act (2007) which allows for the creation of Probation Trusts which will replace Probation Boards. By 1 April 2010 every probation board will have become a Trust although probation staff are a bit unclear as to what this means. The creation of Probation Trusts already signifies a move towards privatisation. Trusts will have their own budget and will be able to use this more flexibly depending on local need- all well and good. However, the Secretary of State (Jack Straw- agh!), retains the power to dissolve a Trust and recommission the services that they provide to… private and 3rd sector organisations! Labour have already laid the foundation stone for the privatisation of probation but did so in a way which made probation services look (and, I suspect, feel), initially, like they were being given more autonomy. The very fact that probation services never had a choice about whether to become a trust or not (If any areas are at that point unable to meet the requirements of trust status, we will use the powers in the Act to open up their services to competition, either from existing trusts or other providers) and that employees are unable to opt out of working for a trust rather than a board (the letter sent to staff informing them of the change said that if they don’t accept the change of employer they will be made redundant with no redundancy pay) undermines this autonomisation of local probation services.

Privatisation of probation is already underway, and at an alarming rate. If any government thinks that they will reduce reoffending rates by providing performance related pay interventions via the private sector, they have a big shock in store.

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Written by criminologyandstuff

February 15, 2010 at 1:05 pm

One Response

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  1. […] I was right. […]


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