Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Posts Tagged ‘Jack Straw

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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February 15, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Jack Straw… talking sense?!

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The more I think about this, the harder I find it believe that Jack Straw actually wrote this: Heroin destroys individuals and communities. I mean, he is actually talking sense and he attempts to play down, rather than play up, media reactions to so-called “shooting galleries”.

To read this: “So we need to keep an open mind on alternative approaches (not dismiss them if they don’t fit with the adjective “tough”)” in a Jack Straw blog made me laugh out loud (which was kind of inappropriate as I was in the library at the time).

He mentions research into medicalisation of heroin and says that it resulted in improvements in the health and lifestyles of heroin users. He fails to mention the ‘social experiment’ carried out by the Portuguese government in which drugs have been decriminalised since when, the use of drugs in Portugal have declined considerably (I am not implying cause and effect here- just commenting). The day Jack Straw says that drugs should be decriminalised will be the day I know that someone has hacked into his blog account at the Lancashire Telegraph!

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September 25, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Posted in criminal justice

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Jack Straw- PM? No thanks!

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Thanks to Andrew Neilson for pointing me in the direction of the politicshome.com website which I’d never come across before. Thanks especially for the point to the positively terrifying survey that says that more people think that Jack Straw would make the best prime minister and leader of the Labour Party than any of the other contenders.

Thankfully, when you actually look at the results, 40% of people think that ‘don’t know’  would actually be the best contender.  I’m with that 40% all the way! Even if so many people ‘don’t know’ because of apathy, lack of awareness or genuine confusion, I’m still with them- any of these alleged ills of a politically apathetic society are better than Jack Straw.

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February 20, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Posted in media, Politics

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One rule for us…?

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I’m sure it’s very nice that Jade Goody and Jack Tweed can spend their wedding night together. I am completely ready to admit that I don’t know anything about them (apart from one of them is famous for being on a non-celebrity-cum-celebrity tv show and the other one beats people up with golf clubs) and that I don’t know anything about the process behind allowing people to change their curfew times (although I do know that it is possible if, for instance, someone gets a job which would require being out of the house outside of curfew hours). However, I can’t help feeling that this may be a case of ‘one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us.

I suppose we just have to trust Jack Straw.

The justice secretary, Jack Straw, said: “It is crucial that offenders are treated equally within the rules regardless of the publicity surrounding their case but I was satisfied that it was reasonable to allow this.”

I’ve never done that before though so it’s an unusual position to find oneself in on a Friday afternoon!

I wonder if Jade will change her name… Jade Tweed- it could be an alternative to Burberry Check.

UPDATE:

It looks like Andrew Neilson of the Howard League thinks similar thoughts to me. Erm, Guardian, where’s the credit?!

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February 20, 2009 at 2:40 pm

New prison ‘to be worth millions’

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I think there is something particularly depressing about the fact that the building of a new prison is applauded because it will improve the local economy, as stated in this article: New prison ‘to be worth millions’. Prison building should not be a job creation exercise. Public sector job creation may be an effective way to improve the economy but surely it would be more effective, positive and constuctive for the state to use money to build schools, better public transport infrastructure or more effective public services.

The only advantage I can see is that people from North Wales will be imprisoned closer to home which, if one is willing to accept the government’s strategy of locking people up, can only be a good thing. But, when the Justice Minister unquestioningly accepts that ‘it seems as though we have built up a sort of national propensity towards prison over the years’ one suspects that a reduction in the prison population is not on the horizon.

Jack Straw’s speech is unusual in that he seems to be saying that he likes community punishment and we should use it more often. However, I don’t take statements like ‘far from being simply a way of managing down the prison population’ at face value. He goes on about community punishment giving people a real chance to reform so maybe he believes that that is what community punishment’s main aim is. But, then, he says that ‘prisons are now genuinely places of punishment and reform’ in a similar way to probation in which ‘the new stated aim of the probation service [is] to ‘punish, help, change and control’ offenders. So it is only right that probation staff now see themselves as part of the correctional machinery rather than simply an extension of social services.’ It is clear that, far from seeing  community punishment as an alternative to prison, he sees it as serving the same aims as prison- an extension, more than an adjunct to, of a system (or service as he likes to call it) which has punishment as its main aim. He really, sincerely believes in the power of punishment and while we have a Justice Minister who belives that, we will be seeing ever more increases in the prison population and a greater focus on punishment in the probation service.


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February 9, 2009 at 10:12 am