Last Friday the Government announced that it will terminate its contracts with companies that run probation services two years earlier than planned.
Ever since their inception in 2015, privately run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) have completely failed those they were set up to serve and their failures have also come at an immense cost to the taxpayer.
Just last year the Government had to bailout the service by £342 million and the redrawing of these existing contracts will cost the government a further £170m.
In addition to this, 71% of fines made to the companies by the Ministry of Justice for poor performance have been waived to help keep these companies afloat.
The decision to privatise this service was made by the coalition Government following on from the 2013 “Transforming Rehabilitation” (TR) consultation.
The service was split in 2015 into the national probation service, which is public and deals with high-risk offenders, and the outsourced, private community rehabilitation companies, which work with medium and low-risk offenders.
The reasoning behind this split was an aim to make it easier to reduce prisoner re-offending rates. Whilst the number of people re-offending has reduced slightly, those that do re-offend are committing crimes much more frequently.
Yet, the Justice Committee, of which I am a member, recently produced a report on the TR reforms which found that they are not meeting the then Government’s aims.
The report states: “We are unconvinced that as things stand the TR model can ever deliver an effective or viable probation service.”
This was evidenced by the fact that by the end of June 2017, CRCs had met an average of just eight of the 24 targets set under their contracts, with the worst-performing CRC meeting only four.
This consultation was not just about rehabilitation, but also about protecting the public—a linchpin of any justice system.
However, in a recent BBC Panorama documentary, the Chief Inspector of Probation stated that she could not say for certain that every private probation company was managing to protect the public as well as it should.
In its investigation, Panorama spoke to an offender who was released from a short sentence in May. He said that he had not met his probation officer for almost a month after release, in the past, he knew exactly who his probation officer was, but now it was hard to tell.
The documentary went on to reveal that one CRC covering London had a record of 15,000 appointments being missed by offenders over a 16-month period. A whistle-blower from this company said that CRCs are employing fewer staff, so individual members of staff have higher caseloads.
The whistle-blower also said that staff were instructed by the CRC to alter records, so that missed appointments were wiped if they were more than two weeks old.
Probation is ultimately a caring profession and it should be viewed as being a bit like teaching or social work. However, it is clear that those who work within the service are being hugely let down by privatised and profit-driven CRCs.
This profit motive has turned the service into a tick-box exercise, but it is not a profession that should be driven by such targets; it requires a well-rounded approach centred on individuals and their needs, not—as we see all too often—on offenders’ ability to provide profits to the CRC.
It is clear that the privatisation of probation services has failed, and the overarching point, which repeats itself time and again, is that this is yet another example of Government-led privatisation that has gone wrong.
The original arrangement and subsequent contracts were not fit for purpose in the first place, and what we are left with is a system driven by the ideological desire to privatise key elements of our justice system and defend the cause even when it evidently fails.
There are some institutions which when the profit motive is the guiding principle behind the actions, the service stops functioning for what it was set out to do. The probation system is one such service and it is an affront to our justice system that this Government have let this happen.
The Government’s announcement to terminate its contracts two years early is further evidence of this privatisation failure.
It is now time, once and for all, to bring the failed schemes back under public control, so that we can get to the root causes of re-offending and provide rehabilitation services that are fit for purpose.