So, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling wants to have a 'grown up discussion' about his barking mad idea to privatise the bulk of probation work in order to reduce reoffending, save money and better protect the public.A full 5 weeks have been felt sufficient for this to happen, but I think most people will require a great deal less time in order to spot the potential pitfalls in such a crazy idea.
I notice that the Labour Party have been quick to label the plans as a 'reckless gamble' but of course they set the whole shambolic treatment of probation in train long ago with the Carter Review. For a short and concise description of the background to the present situation we find ourselves in, I suggest this post written in 2009 is as good as any. The fact is that probation has been treated as a political football by both main parties for years and neither can be trusted to talk any sense on the subject at all.
So what is it exactly that Chris Grayling is proposing? In essence he wants to entrust the supervision of medium and low risk offenders to private security companies and charitable groups and pay them according to how successful they are in preventing reoffending. This is the new magic bullet called 'Payment by Results' - an idea that still remains largely untried and untested, but will nevertheless be rolled out despite clear recent evidence of fraud and fiddling in the 'welfare to work' sector.
This article from the Guardian last May and written by Geoff Dobson a former probation chief explains what other problems will flow from this proposal. I note that Liz Calderbank, HM Chief Inspector of Probation was quick off the mark this morning on BBC radio 4's Today Programme in raising concerns and we can no doubt expect NAPO to be weighing in shortly.
In order to be balanced I had better say that the only good news in all this is the decision to make all short term prisoners, that is those serving twelve months or less, subject of some form of statutory supervision. This is long overdue, but governments of both colours felt the cost not to be justified in the past. It will seriously piss off a lot of repeat short term offenders of course who have been used to not having to bother about the attention of probation officers, but it will have to be paid for out of the existing total, and reducing, NOMS budget, so it doesn't require a genius to see what problems this innovation will bring.