Following the Queens speech yesterday, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling intends to seal his political fate later today by publishing a draft bill that not only privatises the majority of probation work, but also lays the foundations for a perfect omnishambles. Even before the announcement was made, I notice that another new organisation has entered the fray, the Independent Probation Alliance, with a strongly-worded statement that begins:-
So what will be in the Government’s response to the consultation paper on Transforming Rehabilitation, due out tomorrow? We would love to be able to say they had listened to the concerns of those with first-hand knowledge of working with offenders who have raised fears about the riskiness of the proposed new model. But there is not only a track record of not listening, they have “gagged” those in the profession who have tried to voice those worries. What sort of a society do we live in that stops that professional voice, thereby leaving the public seemingly unaware of what is happening and the impact of these plans on public safety?
What’s more, the information being given out about probation is disingenuous and misleading at the very least. The public needs to understand and be better informed about what is happening, and the true position of probation in terms of its significant role and the value of the profession must be represented more truthfully.
In fact there is no evidence at all that the government has listened to the many reasoned and critical responses submitted during the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ consultation exercise and instead are determined to plough on with privatisation. Alan Travis at The Guardian outlines what is proposed:-
More than 50,000 short-sentence prisoners a year are to be given new 12-month compulsory supervision orders under rehabilitation plans run by private companies and charities to be announced by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling.
Ministry of Justice officials say the plans – which could prevent former prisoners from moving to a different area and subject them to compulsory tests for class B drugs such as cannabis – represent the most significant change to short custodial sentences in a decade.
The 12-month period of statutory supervision by companies such as G4S or Serco on payment-by-results contracts will apply to all offenders sent to prison for under two years, including petty criminals jailed just for a few days for offences such as non-payment of a fine.
Now offering support for the short-term prisoner has long been felt ‘a good idea’, but successive government’s have not been willing to fund the Probation Service to undertake this work. Instead it’s going to be handed to private contractors and given what is being proposed, I’d like to wish them the best of luck. Given the sheer numbers involved and with many prisoners feeling very uncooperative indeed, having done their ‘time’, G4S and Serco, are going to need it! I can hear it now “A week for non-payment and 12 months supervision, wearing a tag AND drug tests FFS?! You can f*** off! Oh boy, is this a recipe for disaster…
The article goes on:-
Grayling’s offender rehabilitation bill, to be published today [thurs], will introduce powers to require released offenders to undergo compulsory drug tests for cannabis for the first time while they are living in the community under supervision. Those who test positive will face penalties and be required to attend appointments with the drug treatment services.
While they are in the community offenders, who will probably have to wear a new generation of GPS satellite tracking tags, will have to comply with a programme of support on housing, employment, training and alcohol and drug treatment. There will be a new emphasis on using reformed offenders to act as mentors to those newly released from prison. Those who fail to comply or misbehave will face being recalled to jail.
Short-sentence prisoners serving 12 months or less currently have the highest reconviction rate, with 58% found guilty of a fresh offence within a year. Under the MoJ plans the extended period of compulsory supervision and rehabilitation will also apply to a further 15,000 prisoners a year who serve sentences between 12 months and two years and are already subject to shorter periods of being released on licence.
The current 130 prisons in England and Wales are to be reorganised, with more than half – 70 – moving into a national network of resettlement prisons. Offenders will be released into the local area where their rehab and supervision programme is to take place and will be banned from moving to other parts of the country without permission.
Grayling has turbocharged this next phase of the government’s “rehabilitation revolution” by demanding it is in place by the 2015 general election.
The justice secretary is also to confirm his plan for the privatisation of 70% of the probation workload of supervising 240,000 offenders a year. Partnerships between private companies and voluntary sector organisations will be invited to bid to take over the supervision of all low- and medium-risk offenders in 21 contract areas.
The role of the 100-year-old public probation service is to be restricted to the 30% of work that involves high-risk offenders and public protection issues.
So, in addition to completely reorganising the probation service and arranging ‘groupings’ of Probation Trusts that will be designed to match the contract areas being set up, Grayling intends to reorganise the Prison Estate as well with the aim of being able to release all prisoners from a prison that is conveniently located for a private contractor. This is to make sure they get paid under the Payment by Results system.
I’m tempted to ask if he really understands what he is embarking upon here? But actually I’m fairly sure he doesn’t. It has all the hallmarks of possibly appearing to be a good idea on paper, drawn up by bright, but utterly green civil servants with little knowledge of offenders and the realities of the prison and probation environment.
In fact it reminds me of a funny story my former father-in-law told me many years ago. He worked as an engineer at the Central Electricity Generating Board and one of his areas of specialisation was valves. He recounted having a heated telephone argument with a civil servant in London about a design problem with an 8 inch valve. In desperation the civil servant eventually said ‘Look, just pop it in a jiffy bag and post it to me!’ It weighed 5 tons apparently.
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Courtesy of Jim Brown at On Probation Blog