Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Rehabilitation Reform: A gamble with public safety or a useful reform?

The provision of probation services is undergoing a major change.  From 1st June 2014, the 35 existing Probation Trusts were replaced by 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) and a National Probation Service (NPS).  All of this has taken place under the Ministry of Justice Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) programme.   At the moment, the CRC are publicly owned but it will come as no surprise to most readers to learn that they are to be privatised.  The privatisation is to take place this side of the 2014 General Election causing the Shadow Justice Secretary (Mr Sadiq Khan) to express the concern that, if lengthy contracts for the provision of rehabilitation services are created, the hands of any future government may be tied and further reform prevented - see The Guardian 30th May 2014 Chris Grayling's probation privatisation is a reckless gamble with public safety

It is not unknown
for a future government to be tied into contracts by a previous government - (for example, here).  In this instance, Mr Khan argues that any contracts made must 'include get-out clauses to allow a change of government to walk away free of financial penalty.'  Obviously, any such clause might well be a major factor deterring possible bidders for supply of these services.

Leaving that aside, Mr Khan also argues that the reforms are a major risk with public safety. 

'Experts – including the chief inspector of probation and even justice secretary Chris Grayling's own officials – have warned that the plans are a massive gamble. They fear that confusion caused by a lack of clear responsibility for those on probation will lead to dangerous offenders falling between two stools. What's more, the public will no longer be able to find out information on any failings and hold providers to account as most of probation will be out of scope of freedom of information laws.

None of this worries Grayling. He boasts of trusting his gut instinct over evidence. Perhaps I'm old-fashioned, but I think the need to maintain public safety demands something more than a chemical signal given off by a mix of juices in the secretary of state's stomach.'

The legal powers to make this change seem to be mainly in the Offender Management Act 2007 though this was enacted whilst there was a Labour government and it would be surprising if the possibility of using the powers to actually privatise probation was envisaged.  On that point, readers may know differently.  If so, please comment.

There have been some recent changes to the law relating to rehabilitation of offenders - see the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014.    Background Explanatory Notes to the 2014 Act state:

On 9 January 2013, the Ministry of Justice published a consultation paper entitled “Transforming Rehabilitation: A revolution in the way we manage offenders”. The document set out the Government’s plans to reduce re-offending by:

    Extending statutory supervision to offenders released from short custodial sentences.

    Competing the delivery of rehabilitation services for offenders at low or medium risk of causing serious further harm;

    Paying providers of these services according to their results in reducing re-offending.

    Creating a public sector National Probation Service to supervise offenders who pose the highest risk of serious further harm.

    Ensuring the new system is responsive to local needs and integrates effectively with the other local partnerships and structures relevant to offenders.
The consultation paper proposed a number of reforms to the existing legislation regarding the sentencing and release of offenders, including the introduction of supervision on release for offenders serving custodial sentences of less than 12 months and changes to the requirements available to the court as part of community orders and suspended sentence orders. The consultation concluded on 22 February 2013.

The Ministry of Justice published its response to the consultation on 9 May 2013, entitled “Transforming Rehabilitation: A Strategy for Reform”.  Amongst other things, the response confirmed the Government’s intention to extend statutory supervision in the community to offenders released from short custodial sentences, and to create greater flexibility for providers of probation services to rehabilitate offenders serving community orders or suspended sentence orders.

The Act implements the sentencing and release reforms set out in the Government’s response.

I find it hard to see a good case for privatisation of these services which have been provided in the public sector for over 100 years.  Nevertheless, that is essentially a political question though the evidence in support of the change making matters safer for the public is, at best, very thin.  There must be serious concern at the division in the provision of services between those offenders who are deemed a high risk of harm to others (to be 'managed' by NPS) and those who are not.(leave them to a CRC)!  In practice, there is no simplistic division between offenders.  Every practitioner knows that there are offenders who have committed one serious offence in a particular set of circumstances and they are unlikely to offend again.  Conversely, there are those who are habitual offenders.  In my capacity as a member of the public, I do not wish to be a victim of some dangerous offender who falls between the two stools.

The following links will be of interest to readers:

Transforming Rehabilitation: a revolution in the way we manage offenders

Transforming Rehabilitation: a strategy for reform

House of Commons - Justice Select Committee 12th report  - January 2014 - crime reduction policies: a co-ordinated approach?

House of Commons - Public Accounts Committee - 58th Report - Probation: Landscape Review

Crime and Justice - Richard Garside - 22nd January 2014 - The coming probation privatisation  disaster

Criminal Justice Skills - What does the privatisation of the probation service actually mean

Probation Matters - TR Reflections

Media Comment:



  1. Apparently those staff working for the NPS have been told that they cannot share information with those who have been transferred to their local CRC. This is the subject of an article in the Guardian yesterday - http://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/2014/jun/02/probation-service-reorganisation-morale-staff-low. Confirmed by probation officers (or whatever they are now called) at court yesterday. They are also not allowed to talk about cases to defence solicitors - very helpful. Most of them are trying to leave the service, to be replaced, no doubt, by cheaper staff with no experience but who can be trained to tick the boxes on the sort of pro formas which these privatised companies use as their management tools, rather than experience, common sense, and wisdom.

  2. Sarah - thank you for this interesting comment. I have put a link to The Guardian article into the post.

  3. Thanks for such a thorough overview.

    The internet is awash with news and criticism of what I consider are very dangerous reforms likely to result in some folk being seriously harmed. As probation practitioners are (mostly anonymously) reporting the initial days are as least as disastrous as predicted. Meanwhile the MOJ are in a muddle about the Probation Institute they announced but say is independent of them, with few practitioners are choosing to join, though apparently likely to be joined by their employers!