American novelist Gore Vidal described ‘I told you so’ as ‘the four most beautiful words in our common language’. But for those of us who predicted it, there has been little pleasure in seeing the debacle of probation privatisation laid bare in front of the Justice Committee during its short inquiry into Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) that wound up this morning. It’s a shame the Committee has not done a fuller investigation. As with the MoJ Probation review, no written evidence has been invited. Perhaps both Ministry and Committee knew the horror story they would get-and the fact that the plot had all been told in advance.
So badly botched are
either the contracting or management arrangements that the private community
rehabilitation companies complain simultaneously that they have too few cases and
that caseloads are unmanageably high. One CRC director gave ‘a wrong kind of
snow’ type explanation for this but it’s hard to have much sympathy- unless
that is, the private sector was actively misled by the MoJ – (a serious allegation
made today which should be investigated).
After all, one of the alleged benefits of privatisation is that it can
transfer risks (such as changes in demand for services) from the government to
the private sector.
less than two years into the seven year TR programme, the contracts are having
to be reviewed and presumably money found to bail out the multinational corporations
that run most of the CRCs. Did anyone seriously believe that with the same
overall budget, the new Probation and CRC set up could be expected to supervise
and rehabilitate 25 per cent more offenders than the Probation Trusts they
replaced? The result is that the through the gate supervision of short term
prisoners post release – the supposed jewel in the crown of TR- according to one witness amounts to “£46 and a leaflet” , compared to just £46 previously.
Despite that reality, a witness told the Committee today that courts are imposing
more short term prison sentences than pre-TR, thinking offenders will now get
punishment plus help. The Chairman of the Magistrates Association said last week that if sentencers do not have confidence in the robustness of the alternatives to custody, they may conclude that there is no alternative to
custody. These adverse risks for prison numbers were well rehearsed but ignored
during TR’s rushed implementation. Just as worrying was today’s evidence that CRCs
are not getting breach paperwork to court in time.
One ray of light in an otherwise gloomy landscape looks to be in the North East
where the Durham and Tees Valley CRC seems to be avoiding most of the pitfalls.
It’s no coincidence perhaps that it’s a single not for profit organisation run
by a consortium of local organisations where staff have designed the operating model.
Unlike elsewhere morale is good. But looked at in the round it’s hard to see
how the Justice Committee can find TR so far anything but a major failure of
is to be done? The reality is that with some crutches from the MoJ review, the arrangements
are likely to limp on until 2021 but unless there’s a drastic improvement,
something different will be needed then if not before. In London, the Mayor’s
Office wants to join the oversight arrangements of the CRC “with the intention of devolving the full contract and commissioning responsibilities once the current contract ends”. If performance
in the capital does not improve, maybe that should happen sooner. A more genuinely
local approach rooted in Justice Reinvestment is surely the next chapter for
probation after this tale of woe.