Privatising the probation service

Police and Crime Partnership Meeting notes
The bulk of this meeting was taken up with an interesting presentation on the reforms of the probation service by the CEO of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough probation trust John Budd. These are set out in the government document Transforming Rehabilitation, and more info can be found on the trust website.
The long and short of it is that the probation service is going to be privatised as a cost cutting measure (my words and not those of Mr Budd). The man responsible for this policy is Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Justice. Some of you may remember him from policies such as the Work Programme, to which the changes bear an uncanny similarity.
There are numerous criticisms that could be levelled at the ideas and the process, and there is little detail at this stage on exactly what and how things will happen. The time to affect the decision on whether this will happen is over and we can expect to see a privatised probation service in place by 2015.
So what does this have to do with the voluntary sector? Answer for large parts of it nothing, just like the work programme. But for a significant minority it will make a difference. If you work with offenders, their families or with victims and witnesses or with those at risk of offending then you will need to be aware of the changes. Just like the work programme the country has been split into big chunks that will be the areas that new contracts will be awarded (In this case 21 areas). For the VCS it is likely to be the case that no organisation will be big enough to take on the work, so expect to see the usual suspects, SERCO, A4E(?), G4S as the main leads, with the VCS becoming sub contractors (sound familiar to the Work Programme – let’s hope we get a better deal). Alongside this will be a new national probation service that will be responsible for assessing all prisoners and keeping responsibility for those at highest risk of causing harm, so the private sector will not be responsible for sex offenders etc. which is a good thing.
In Cambridgeshire our probation trust will be rolled up with Beds, Herts, and Northamptonshire into the sixth biggest, and one of the most complicated, contract areas. The process will see these trusts rolled into one new company to provide services, this will in effect be sold by the government to the winner of the contract. At this stage the government will cease to care how services are delivered and will concentrate simply on outcomes, with payment linked to that.
This is not being done simply as a cost saving exercise but will be designed to improve the lot of those coming out of prison. In line with this there will be a mandatory duty to ‘supervise’ prisoners that have served sentences of under 12 months, this is different from the present where these prisoners do not get a probation officer or any real support. It is this last change that is the only bit of these reforms that needs new primary legislation, and this is what was defeated recently in the Lords.
It is impossible not to draw comparisons with the work programme and the problems this has caused large numbers of those from the sector who have been involved. It is also not impossible to envisage the headlines when things go wrong and a charity ‘is responsible’ for a prisoner who reoffends and hurts someone.
How the circle that is more work, more innovation, better results is squared with the fact that there will be less money is not something I can see. There will undoubtedly be opportunities for the sector, and we must hope that innovation like the One Programme in Peterborough will be allowed, supported and paid for. I can not however see how this will work in the best interest of anyone apart from the shareholders of the winning companies and the supporters of privatisation in the coalition. I certainly do not envy the role of Mr Budd who gave the presentation to the meeting and who is one of those tasked with making this happen in a time frame that only the Secretary of State for Justice seems to think is feasible.
If you work in the justice arena then please leave your thoughts. Have I got it wrong, is this a positive change that will benefit the sector? And even if not how can we make the most of the new reforms?

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