Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Posts Tagged ‘Probation Service

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’ ( 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’ ( 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

Kansas probation vs the National Probation Service

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It is fairly unbelievable to read that the state of Kansas is closing prisons, encouraging the use of probation and not recalling people if they breach their parole/probation as reported here: To save money on prisons, states take a softer stance. The argument is that because of the recession the state is trying to save money by not using prison quite so much.

This is even more incredible when one considers that the Republican House Speaker admits that the state is of the ‘hang-em-high’ kind and that the very same house speaker has previsouly campaigned on increasing the length and use of prison sentences across the board. Not only is the state using prison less but probation has been become more welfare focussed:

Over the past year, Grevas has transformed the enforcement-oriented operation, heavily focused on the surveillance of offenders, into a service broker. Probation officers now help offenders find work, health care, housing, counseling, transportation and child care.

Isn’t it amazing what a recession can do!

Interestingly, however, I decided to look up the prison population for Kansas- I think this document is the right place to look. It seems that the prison population was decreasing anyway- before the recession hit fully and before the bill was passed in the state parliament to increase the use of probation service (page 22). I’m not really sure what that means but it seems to add an extra dimension.

The government in England and Wales has been trying to reduce the prison population for some time with the introduction of early release, the bail accommodation and support service and more use of HDCs. But they don’t seem to be doing too well- the prison population is still rising and there are no signs that it’s going to stop soon.

However, the UK government is also cutting funding to front line probation services. This, in my view, will lead to more people being on probation or licence or being subject to a SSO but with less probation officers available to work with them. The only option, surely, will be for probation officers to become more like a surveillance organisation in order to cope.

So, the penal system and probation service in Kansas undergoes a philosophical change towards welfarism and the England and Wales will inevitably have to go the other way. And all because of the recession. It will be interesting to see which state has made the right choice.

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March 18, 2009 at 11:24 am

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

Probation cuts ‘to let crime soar’ –

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Although I think the Mirror is slightly sensationalist in this article, I do think they have a point- there are theories about crime rising in recessions although the evidence is certainly not clear. Currie has argued that a market society, in which ‘the pursuit of private gain increasingly becomes the organizing principle for all areas of social life’ (Currie 2002, 369) has strong links with increasing crime rates. He identifies 5 ways that market societies and crime are linked- most of these are related to increased inequality and the need to gain more individual wealth. Assuming that inequality will increase in a recession and that people will want to achieve the standing of living they had got used to pre-recession, we can presume that, maybe, crime will rise in a recession.

Whether cuts in the probation service will exacerbate that situation is what I am questioning. I would guess that most people who turn to crime do so because they no longer have the social status (based on wealth) or the standard of living they were used to and probably normalise it by saying ‘well, I worked hard and was rich but now there is a recession, which isn’t my fault, I have less money so I deserve to be allowed to commit crime to maintain my economic situation’. They already know crime is ‘wrong’ and probably have the thinking skills to desist when they need to i.e. when they have (re)achieved their desired financial situation. I wonder if probation actually has any effect on them at all. It may help them to retrain to find a new job in a different economy but the ‘What Works’ movement has only been tested in an economy which has been thriving. The CBT techniques have not been tested on people who have had to ‘resort’ to crime for the purpose of maintaining economic standings. It will be interesting to see whether these people pose any different problems to ‘standard’ probation clients and whether the techniques which have been honed for people who have not thrived in a boom will work with people who thrived in a boom but declined in a recession.

One other thing from this article concerns me.

“Public protection is the Probation Service’s main priority. It will not be put at risk.”

Does this mean the probation service will be forced to focus even more on public protection and be pressured to leave rehabilitation behind to an even greater extent? Although public protection can be a by-product of rehabilitation, it’s not working like this at the moment- the focus is on electronic tags, regular reporting (but not supervision), and the threat of sanctions to control offenders lives rather than working with them to help them overcome their problems in order to eventually lead a crime free life. This, in turn, will lead to an even greater and more sustainable reduction in the crime rate, protecting the public more effectively.


Currie, Elliott. 2002. ‘Social Crime Prevention Strategies in a market society’ in McLaughlin, Eugene, John Muncie, and Gordon Hughes Criminological Perspectives: Essential Readings. London: Sage Publications Ltd.  pp. 369-381.

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February 3, 2009 at 10:26 am

Help with probation issues

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I have noticed that people are getting to my blog in order to get advice about probation related issues which are presumably related to them. I am not, by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, a legal expert so I’m not about to start offering advice here. What I can do, however, is point people to a few good (UK based) websites:

Criminal Justice Online
The Probation Service
The Probation Inspectorate
Community Legal Advice
Citizens Advice Bureaux

All the best and good luck.

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January 16, 2009 at 2:46 pm

High-viz jackets

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Here’s an interesting article about the high visibility jackets that offenders doing Unpaid Work now have to wear. It seems that the writer is making my point that we need to find out exactly how these jackets affect the offender and the community before hailing them a success, or branding them useless.

Maybe they have no effect on crime which the Napo study revealed but do they have an impact on fear of crime or feelings of injustice? If so, is that a justified reason for using them? Fear of crime tends to manifest itself as a feeling of greater insecurity when compared to the actual risk of being a victim of crime. If we can reduce the fear of crime, will we then reduce the potential for the media and politicians to exploit our late-modern feeling of insecurity? Would this in turn lead to a more accepting society due to the fact that people are less scared of crime and its perpetrators?

I’m not sure about this argument but it fits in with my general belief that we, as members of the public, should try to reclaim and then utilise some of the more punitive and restrictive ideas that governments have come up with in order to achieve something better, fairer and more just.

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January 13, 2009 at 11:26 am