The ‘rehabilitation revolution’ – gambling with public safety
The government plans to outsource 70 per cent of probation services by 2015. The National Association of Probation Officers (napo) estimates that nearly 70,000 of the 140,000 low- and medium-risk cases to be outsourced will be offenders convicted of violent or sexual offences. According to the Prison Reform Trust, two thirds of offenders misuse drugs and 72 per cent have mental health problems. Individuals posing a significant risk to the public could end up being supervised by private companies such as Capita, A4E and Amey that have little or no experience and expertise in managing offenders in the community, nor of assessing risk.
There may be trouble ahead…
The government’s own internal risk register for the probation procurement, which the Secretary of State for Justice has refused to publish, warns that there is a more than an 80 per cent risk that the reforms will lead to “an unacceptable drop in operational performance” triggering “delivery failures and reputational damage”. Concerns about the reforms have also been raised by the President of the Supreme Court and leaked documents show that senior officials at the Ministry of Justice have warned that the privatisation plans lack support, are being pushed through on an aggressive timetable and potentially endanger public safety, while the promised cost savings are unlikely to be delivered.
Mind the accountability gap
G4S and Serco are both currently being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office for overcharging the government for tagging offenders, reflecting a lack of transparency and accountability in this market-based approach to justice. Government plans to use payment-by-results to ensure accountability are flawed. This approach could dis-incentivise companies from working with the most difficult offenders and payments for reducing reoffending will not reflect the many crimes that go undetected and unpunished.
Justice under austerity
Austerity has already pushed the probation service to its limits. Reductions in funding have led to many probation programmes, such as those for sex offenders and perpetrators of domestic violence, being cut or delayed, and others not starting before the 12-month supervision order has expired. The service is likely to deteriorate further due to planned cuts of £148m from the Ministry of Justice budget in 2014–2016. This will inevitably lead to the loss of skilled probation professionals, whose responsibilities include writing pre-sentence reports for judges, assessing offenders and preparing them for release, running offender behaviour programmes and supervising offenders in probation hostels and on community payback.