Little did I know when I spoke at a rally against probation privatisation outside Westminster alongside Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence in April 2014, that two years later I would be writing this article for you as Labour’s Shadow Justice Minister for Prisons and Probation.
My working life has changed a bit in those two years and so too have the working lives of Napo members across England and Wales.
The Tory and Lib Dems’ “Transforming Rehabilitation” project has certainly transformed probation. Transformed it into a system that has put private profit before public safety, creating a fractured workforce that is feeling the strain of job insecurity, increased workload, less autonomy and less opportunity for training and career progression.
In a Parliamentary debate on prisons and probation last month – my first speech from the Despatch Box as Shadow Minister – I described probation privatisation as misguided and reckless. This drew gasps, groans and much shaking of heads from the Government benches opposite, but they know that TR has been a dog’s dinner. And it’s not as if they weren’t warned in advance.
500 of the 600 responses to NOMS’ consultation on TR in 2013 were negative about the impact it could have on service delivery and risk management. But the Tories are well versed in issuing consultations and then completely ignoring expert responses. What they did on TR they have matched and raised on the Trade Union Bill.
In the words of Professor Paul Senior of Sheffield Hallam University: “TR has transformed a high performing, well managed service, with committed caring practitioners dedicated to public service into a fragmented system, untried, untested and lacking in an evidence base which threatens public safety, destabilises an invaluable service and destroys staff morale.”
Artificially splitting responsibility for offenders between two separate organisations, based on different levels of risk, taking no account of how risk levels fluctuate, was always going to produce, rather than prevent, problems.
Handing over the work to deliver this crucial service to global private corporations, with no oversight or control, to enable them to profit from the criminal justice system? When payment by results and maximising profit are the drivers of a service we all know where the axe falls first.
Huge numbers of redundancies across CRCs, in my region (Wales and South West) redundancies of more than 40% of the entire staff. IT systems not fit for purpose. Cases falling through the cracks. And the service in South Yorkshire, which the Government saw fit to give to French catering company Sodexo to run, rumoured to be under threat of renationalisation because of the risks to public safety through offenders not being properly monitored and where job cuts as high as 30% are expected.
As Professor Gill Kirton of Queen Mary University and author of a recent study commissioned by Napo on “Employment Relations and Working Conditions in Probation after Transforming Rehabilitation” reported: “The introduction of the profit motive is something that most find deeply offensive as public sector professionals.”
Decisions on the supervision of dangerous offenders should be determined by public safety, not by profit margins.
In the last Parliament, the Labour Party opposed probation privatisation. Former Shadow Justice Secretary and London Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan MP, made clear our opposition to the policy.
Like Napo, we warned of the risks in artificially fragmenting a service when we know that what works best are agencies working together locally and joined up supervision, focused on what will help rehabilitate the offender. And like Napo, we were appalled at the arrogance of a Government determined to sign 10 year contracts, guaranteeing lost profits to the companies involved, just to tie the hands of any future governments.
Grayling covered his eyes and ears and ploughed on regardless.
It’s almost tempting to feel sorry for Michael Gove. Nearly one year into his tenure as Justice Secretary, he’s spent most of his time trying to clear up the mess left behind by Grayling rather than implementing any of his own ideas or policies for his so called “rehabilitation revolution”. I imagine his Monday morning meetings with advisors aren’t the zealous, reforming, upbeat sessions he’d like, but rather a tired conversation about which of Grayling’s disasters he’ll have to publicly reverse that week, taking yet another one for the Tory team.
Gove might like to put the disaster that is privatised probation at the top of that list next week.
Jo Stevens MP