Thursday, 21 February 2013

Probation Message to Minister

The deadline for submissions to the MoJ in relation to privatising most of the Probation Service is tomorrow and I thought it might be interesting to have a look at what various parts of the profession is saying. If I was tempted to be brutally honest I'd say it was the classic two-fingered gesture, admittedly wrapped up in quite a lot of verbiage in some cases.

It's no surprise to see what Avon and Somerset PT think because their direction of thought has been well flagged-up by their chairman Joe Kuipers:-

Recognising that there are other better assured and evidenced ways of meeting the three outcomes, and that there is existing success and indeed enthusiasm to improve and reduce costs, we are concerned that the government is intent on unleashing a costly upheaval of the existing system that is not impact assessed, rather than working with trusts to build upon success. It appears to us that it is a desired “solution” (i.e privatisation and the introduction of PbR) that is driving the project, rather than a clear analysis of the needs of communities.

Durham Tees Valley PT are fairly forthright:-

  • We believe Probation has changed a lot in the last 20 years. We went from being a local service to a national one. We have been amalgamated with the prison service under the umbrella of the National Offender Management Service. Former Probation Boards were required to meet very high standards to become a Probation Trust. Probation Trusts were established less than three years ago and have performed exceptionally well. Durham Tees Valley Probation Trust is among the highest performers in the country across virtually all aspects of our work.
  • We believe changes to the way Probation is governed and managed could involve a closer relationship with the Police and Crime Commissioner. Further thought would be required on this.
  • We believe public sector probation trusts should “manage” all cases. We think this is right that all offenders should be accountable to a properly trained state official, not influenced by commercial considerations.
  • We think we need to find a way to ensure the best people and most capable organisations play a part in “supervising” offenders. We think this is a good idea because we know lots of the things that contribute to re-offending are things probation cannot do. We think this should be decided locally.
  • Not having clear arrangements which ensure private providers properly manage risk is very worrying. We call this “fragmentation” – lots of different people responsible for lots of different things. We know that this is very difficult to make work effectively. It can also be more expensive.
  • We have experience of using nationally commissioned services, which have proved to be bad and costly.
  • We agree it is a really good thing that people who go to prison for less than 12 months receive support and have rules about their behaviour for a period after their release.

The response from Unison is an extremely well-argued demolition of the government's proposals and they summarise an alternative way forward that involves:-

Strengthened Probation Trusts given the powers and financial flexibilities to work more effectively with local public sector partners through co-operation rather than competition.

Commissioning, and public sector co-commissioning, of probation services to take place at the local level – based around local authority and police authority boundaries –  with a presumption that public/public partnerships can deliver service improvements rather than crude outsourcing.

Commissioning to be based on principles of Best Value, rather than central diktat from NOMS, with Trusts and other public sector bodies free to manage their procurement without the unnecessary bureaucracy of an artificial purchaser/provider split.

Probation Trusts to re-establish a genuine democratic engagement with communities through the re-introduction of elected councillors, magistrates and judiciary on their Boards.

Additional capacity in community supervision to be developed between Probation Trusts and local authorities in line with our report ‘Primary Justice Reloaded.’

Of course all upheavals, like the one being proposed by the government for probation, of necessity have to rely on sound and secure IT systems. This will be particularly important in relation to the myriad of new third sector players keen on entering the privatised rehabilitation market. 

Unfortunately, as we all know to our cost in probation, the track record has not been good. CRAMS and eOASys have not been a roaring success, are cranky and often crash. The government lost a fortune in being forced to cancel the replacement system C-Nomis and here we have an article in Private Eye confirming that there are major problems with nDelius which is in the process of being rolled-out nationally.

As I'm writing this we hear that yet another right-wing think tank Reform is very unhappy about the government's u-turn on prison privatisation. However it's interesting to note that the author has been slapped down with the minister Jeremy Wright saying Reform's

"simplistic analysis does not tell the whole story. A wide range of factors contribute to reoffending including previous criminal behaviour, alcohol dependency and the support offenders receive from prison." Juliet Lyon from the Prison Reform Trust seems to agree and say's the report's selective use of data masked "decidedly mixed results."

Finally, I note that the prime minister is suggesting that a chunk of the ring-fenced overseas aid budget can be spent on 'peace-keeping'. What a wheeze! I think it would be a good idea if some of the education budget came over to criminal justice in recognition of the thousands of kids failed by schools every year. Oh, and we want some of the health budget too in respect of the thousands of clients that don't get treatment from NHS mental health services.  

Only 1027 more signatures needed to hit 20,000, so sign the No10 petition here. 

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