The great Probation train crash
On the 1st of June, the 35 Probation Trusts in England and Wales were closed down and replaced by a National Probation Service (NPS), (who will carry out Court duties, Parole reports and supervise those Probation clients that pose a high risk of harm), and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) that will supervise clients that pose a low to medium risk of harm.
The Secretary of State, Chris Grayling, is pushing ahead with the implementation of Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) which will see the 21 CRCs sold off in October 2014 to the lowest bidder as part of so called ‘rehabilitation revolution’.
Professional values v Corporate chaos
The 106 year-old Probation Service has seen many changes over the years, some for the better and some not so. It has managed these changes by maintaining its strong professional ethos and value base which enables staff to work with very challenging behaviour and seek to enable people to positively change their lives. But these reforms, the biggest the service has ever had to face, risk destroying the values of the service by shifting the focus from people to private profit and this is something that professionals fiercely oppose.
On the 1st of June staff in the service were split into the new organisations. Since then, there has been corporate chaos with massive IT failures leaving staff unable to access client’s records, or not knowing who is on their case load, the transfer of thousands of cases from one officer to another with no proper hand overs and significant delays to sentencing and parole hearings. Service users are attending their appointments only to be told there is no one to see them, or the IT has failed so the office is unable to tell them who their officer is. Serving prisoners often have no idea who they should contact or who is writing their reports. And all this before the 21 CRCs are even privatised!
Unions call for a halt to the share sale
Despite Napo and many other organisations calling on the Secretary of State to halt these untried and untested plans until, at the very least, the infrastructure is in place, it has fallen on deaf ears. With massive overcrowding in prisons and a Probation Service in meltdown, frustrations for both staff and service users are increasing. Not only is the Service currently unable to function effectively, there are real concerns about its future given what we know about the future bidders. The usual suspects are in the frame, Sodexo, Capita, A4E. But a few new ones have come into play as well. Sentinel is the American company that charge service users to use their version of the probation service. One example is a service user being charged $300 a month to pay for the tag the Court had sentenced him to. Another is Carillion, the company that owns Tarmac, hardly famed for their expertise in the justice system. How will these companies provide a quality service to the public and service users alike when their main focus will be on making profits for the shareholders?
Cutting corners to save a few pence is not, in our view, worth the significantly detrimental impact these changes will have on all involved. Effective rehabilitation is about individual needs and the Probation Service being responsive to them. It is about communities taking ownership of their justice system to enable people to resettle successfully. It is about the good relationships with partnership agency so officers can work collectively on issues such as housing and mental health. Most importantly, and as the evidence overwhelmingly tells us, it is about the positive professional relationship between service user and officer.
This is something that takes time and resources to build but would in Graylings TR world, be totally disregarded and cast adrift by rash reforms that are not evidenced based but have a purely ideological agenda to suit an election timetable. The fragmentation of the service will undoubtedly see high numbers of service users simply falling through the cracks, receiving little or no interventions or rehabilitation and result in an increase in the already burgeoning prison population. Many who are already on the margin of society will be further isolated and left out in the cold as their complex needs will be deemed too expensive to try to resolve and will therefore not make a profit for the ‘privateers.’
Napo still in the fight
Napo will continue to campaign against these madcap plans and we are working with other stakeholders to hold the government to account. We will continue to raise awareness of the positive work the probation service has done in the past and how these reforms will destroy it. We will continue to campaign for access to rehabilitation both in prisons and in communities.
If you would like to help our campaign or find out more then please go to our website. We would also like to hear from service users of their experience of Probation since 1st June 2014. www.napo.org.uk
Please take action – email Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, and Home Secretary, Teresa May, calling on them to halt the probation reforms, and protect access to justice and public safety.
By Ian Lawrence, General Secretary, Napo