Probation Service in crisis on BBC Radio 5 Live Investigates

A recent programme on BBC Radio 5 Live as part of the ‘BBC Radio 5 live Investigates’ series, explored the current crisis in the probation service in regard to the introduction of the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) programme. As we have blogged previously, TR involves splitting the probation service into two, with 70 per cent of the service (the section which will supervise medium-low risk offenders), subject to privatisation, as former publicly-run Probation Trusts are set to become Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs).

The programme was based on an investigation conducted by journalist Anna Riggs, which included a series of interviews with probation staff. The programme heard from Yvonne Pattison, Co-Chair, Napo, Gary Waller from charity User Voice, which is led by ex-offenders, as well as retired chief inspector of probation Andrew Bridges. All commentators including those interviewed raised a number of serious criticisms with the government’s programme to privatise and fragment the probation service, a programme which is proceeding without even an ounce of evidence to base the restructure upon.

Here are a selection of quotes from the interview:

Probation staff (revoiced during the programme and anonymous)
“We don’t have enough staff so now if one person is off sick, it rapidly descends into chaos. We have a more intense caseload, the same amount of bodies, and less time to do the work in. I do not feel I’m effective at all, I cannot do my job at the moment, it’s frustrating and scary.”

“I have concerns that we have no idea if we are seeing everyone that we are supposed to be seeing. I suspect that people are being sentenced but that we are not receiving them. All offenders should receive details of their first appointment before they leave court. In one CRC, over 4 weeks, 57 out of 72 didn’t have a first appointment scheduled. They’re just the ones we know about. They disappear.”

“We are severely under resourced. I’m carrying the caseload of a full-time officer, despite working part-time. I don’t have time to do any risk reviews, I literally just see cases, record on the system about it. I’ve got breach reports stacked up to write but I don’t have time. These cases are not complying with their orders but I don’t have time to take them back to court.”

Yvonne, Co-Chair, Napo
“We believe that the selling of the CRCs is not safe to proceed. Transforming Rehabilitation is ideologically driven, and is causing chaos already over information technology, as well as access to information. Our challenge is to provide a portfolio of evidence, we can’t comment specifically. There are cases where things have gone wrong, we can’t say what happened could’ve been avoided, but the circumstances surrounding the events suggests that Transforming Rehabiliation may have contributed.”

“We get sent some information but we…[probation officers]…can’t see records in real time which can lead to problems…we’re used to change but these changes are putting people at risk, at risk of violence. They are making it more likely that in my opinion that there will be serious further offences. The majority of offences are committed by people who are low-medium risk, those who will be supervised by the CRCs.”

Gary Waller, User Voice
“We have contacts with probation trusts nationally, and it takes a long time to build up trust. In extreme circumstances there are large groups of people on probation allocated to new offices, in some cases not even getting travel subsidised. One offender we spoke to had seen 15 members of staff in the past 12 months. This makes it harder to build up trust and feeds into anger about the system; all they do is moan about the service they are receiving.”

“Everybody wants to reduce risk of reoffending. To do this we need to put the support in place for people on probation, otherwise they will be more likely to reoffend.”

“Probation is holistic, but with the current changes, it’s all in turmoil. The detrimental impact it is having on people on probation is very, very apparent. Probation staff are not able to deliver the service they want to deliver.”

Andrew Bridges, former chief inspector of probation
“It is a good thing in principle to introduce probation to short-term prisoners, but the way it’s being done is fraught with real difficulties. I use the word reckless as Chris Grayling decided to dispense with the pilot schemes. That would at least have given the model a test drive.”

“The split in the service is the single thing I’m most worried about.”

Please sign our petition calling on the government to put a halt to the probation sell-off and to stop gambling with our justice system!

Link to BBC Radio 5 Live

To listen to the programme, please click here.

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Justice is under attack

The government is fragmenting the justice system, privatising policing, probation and prison services, closing courts, slashing the legal aid budget and making drastic cuts to funding. This will undermine the system, reduce access to justice and put public safety at risk.

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