Monday, 28 January 2013

A Dog's Breakfast

We are now well into the statutory minimum consultation period of just six weeks in relation to government plans for privatising the probation service. It's outrageous, but here we are in a supposedly mature democracy with only 42 days in which to consider utterly fundamental changes to a public service that's been around for 105 years. 

Any sensible person can see that it's going to result in a dog's breakfast and here the internet has thrown up a thorough analysis of what the issues are and why it's extremely likely to be disastrous. Entitled 'A Briefing for Police and Crime Commissioners, Sentencers and the Parole Board' it's author is Joe Kuipers, Chair of the Avon and Somerset Probation Trust. He asks some fundamental questions posed by the plan to 'disaggregate' offender management:- 

  • There is not a neat dividing line between actuarial risk measures that refer to populations which have limited capacity to be translated to individual offenders. The current measure, the Offender Group Reconviction Scale (OGRS) has value, but only in the context for individual offenders of an assessment of more dynamic factors, which in turn may also be more ‘subjective’.  It is also clear from the comments made by the Justice Secretary that higher risks of reoffending (reconviction) cases (including burglars, etc) will be managed by other organisations than probation services. Risk of harm is somewhat more complex to assess and be ‘right’ about, and is generally believed to need the skills of ongoing and consistent offender management (OM). How will such reassessment of risk of harm be undertaken when there is a variety of OMs?
  • Most Serious Further Offences (SFOs) are committed by offenders within the lower and medium risk groups. There are clear SFO procedures for Trusts to meet. How will a range of providers and OMs meet these procedures consistently?
  • Risk for individual offenders often change and are reassessed. How will the transfers of cases be managed when offenders either become high risk or become less risky? Will providers from other sectors resist risk classification as they may then ‘lose them’ and their potential ‘financial value’? We know that the more information transfer is needed between organisations the greater the likelihood of failure and gaps.
  • Currently victim contact services are provided by probation trusts. With the splitting of OM, how many different organisations will victims need to turn to for their support and to make their input to offender resettlement plans?
  • Offenders move between Youth Offending Services and the probation service. How many providers might small youth offending teams need to liaise with without a central ‘ring-holder’?
  • Offenders move geography. Can we be sure of sufficient consistency of approach between geographies?
  • Offenders are released from HM Prison service for community supervision. How many supervising organisations will HM Prison Service staff need to liaise with to secure good information exchange?
  • There are increasing systems of shared supervision, especially between the police and probation with full information sharing, as advocated by the MoJ / NOMS. With a variety of probation providers and OMs how comfortable will the police (and potentially others) be in sharing intelligence and information?
  • Lower risk offenders are often chaotic and they do not necessarily comply with the instructions of their OMs. Public sector probation staff will have a responsibility for breach and recall. Will there be conflicts of interest between public sector probation staff and providers (being paid by results) when it comes to breach and recall? Will the courts and parole board be presented with contradictory views from the public sector probation staff and other providers in such cases? Will there need to be new mechanisms for dispute resolution between the various parties when there will be inevitable disagreements? How likely is it that the profit motive will override good decisions for the public?
  • The ‘policing role’ for public sector probation staff has been referred to by the Justice Secretary. This role appears akin to that of the NOMS’s placed ‘controllers’ in the much smaller contracted prison estate. Is this really a job for probation professionals across such a potential range of providers, or one for commissioners? How will conflicts of interest be managed and actual conflicts of view be resolved between the ‘policers’ and providers?
       The author highlights that the consultation document includes the following aspiration:-

    "We need a system where one provider has overall responsibility for getting to grips with an offender's life skills, co-ordinating a package of support to deliver better results."

      and goes on to wryly note "One might conclude that we have such a system in place already, called the Probation Service?"

  I agree entirely and we only have until 22nd February to let Chris Grayling know why 'Transforming Rehabilitation' is the perfect recipe for a dish to put before man's best friend first thing in the morning.   

1 comment:

  1. Great post, please continue with that. I be pleased to read something similar with this! Thank you!