Thursday, 7 March 2013

Profit or Philanthropy?

I notice that Guardian columnist Erwin Jones does not like the idea of privatising the Probation Service. His view is particularly worth noting because he's had personal experience and recently wrote a moving tribute to an officer he came into contact with whilst in prison.

In another piece on his blog he states that privatising the Service is 'morally repugnant' and invokes the memory of the founders of the modern Probation Service, like Frederic Rainer, who most probably will be revolving in his grave:- 

I can’t see how a “probation officer” employed by a private contractor is going to be any more effective than a real probation officer contracted to the state. The primary motivation for the operation of a private company is profit, profit, profit. There was never any notion of Probation for Profit in the hearts of those who built the foundations of the modern probation service.

As all of us in probation know full well, there's long been a close connection between philanthropic endeavour and the state-run Service. Many probation hostels to this day are still owned and managed by charities and individual officers and local worthies have formed numerous charitable bodies over the entire life of the state-run Service. 

In order to illustrate the point, here is Lord Rhodes speaking in 1985 during a debate on the Probation Service and describing what was happening in Manchester:-

Successive Home Secretaries have sincerely tried to stem the tide of increasing crime, with only limited success. We welcome the working paper Criminal Justice and the statement on national objectives and priorities for the probation service which have been issued during the past fortnight. The remarks I have to make are directed to the statement on the probation service. The statement clearly identifies the need to maintain a whole range of facilities for use by the courts and the probation service. It highlights the need to assist all those returning to everyday life from custody. To this end, we in the community are urged to rally around and to make a prime contribution by involving ourselves in the rehabilitation of the offender. Quite rightly, for without that involvement of the community in the rehabilitation of an offender, rehabilitation is a non-starter.

We have been doing that in Manchester for the past 13 years; that is, carrying out the tenets which are mentioned in the two documents. Our trust is called the Selcare Trust. It comprises Crown Court judges, probation officers, magistrates and a fine lot of people from the general public. Last week, we held our annual general meeting in Manchester Town Hall. It was one of the most vibrant meetings I have attended in recent years; it was one of the finest meetings I have ever had the privilege to attend. The hall was full. It is now recognised that we are making the kind of progress that is paying off in this particular field.

I ask your Lordships to give me your indulgence when I read out the progress that we have made in Manchester during the past 13 years. If my name crops up occasionally, please forgive me. We started first with an organisation, involving the head probation officer for Manchester. In 1971 the Chadderton Guest House was opened as a rehabilitation centre for older men, to help many of the men living there avoid further crime and breakdown. In 1972 it was the Bury Family Centre for women needing help—wives of prisoners who did not know how to add up. In 1973 it was the Failsworth Guest House for homeless women and their babies, especially when leaving hospital or prison.

In 1974 it was the Oldham Anchor Club—an evening centre for the isolated and lonely, a day centre for community groups with special aims, and so on. In 1974, we had the Bolton Guest House for homeless men in single rooms; and rooms for battered wives, unmarried mothers or the homeless from care or prison. In 1975 we had the East Manchester, Beswick Guest House, for homeless young men in the 17 to 21 age group discharged from detention.

In 1976 we were registered as a housing association. In 1976 we had "the Lady Rhodes", a narrowboat. This is a marvellous project where probation officers give of their own time to take out young lads who have just started offending against the law. Then we had Flagg Barn, another place in Derbyshire that we have for young offenders to learn sensible adventures. Again, the probation service comes up trumps, because much is done in their own time. I shall soon be through this list. In 1979 there was Stretford, a group support scheme providing facilities for a number of probation officers in the area. In 1980 there was Leigh, a bed-sit rehabilitation unit for six homeless men discharged from prison. Then, in 1981 there was the Manchester Forward Drive Scheme, the Manchester Coach Scheme and the Manchester Day Centre for all after-care contacts, where people can put down their names so that they can keep in touch with really good influences day by day.

In 1981 there was an extension to Chadderton House to accommodate men discharged from prison. In 1982, in Manchester, we obtained paramount control of two existing and successful hostels. This is absolutely fantastic. One is for men and the other is a stopover home for young women who, shall I say, are seen and looked after, having arrived at Piccadilly Station with nowhere to go and no home. In 1982 Failsworth House was reopened for homeless males discharged from prison. Also in 1982 Leigh Hostel was opened. In 1983 seven developments were commenced. I shall come to a conclusion in a few moments. This year, Princess Margaret opened the Rhodes Centre in Oldham—a resource centre able to cater for many groups and which contains the original Anchor Club. The building had been completely gutted and rebuilt, mainly using Manpower Services labour skills. It is to be used from mid-December, and was officially opened in February.

It could be said that in many ways the development and operation of the Probation Service has been a model example of that now widely-derided concept known as The Big Society. What has been described for Manchester was replicated all over the country and my own Service has a very similar fine record of innovation and philanthropic endeavour. 

It irritated me enormously when Sir Stephen Bubb, official cheer leader of the bosses for what is now referred to as the third sector, recently claimed some moral right to take back control of the Service. I'm afraid many of the organisations he speaks for nowadays appear remarkably lacking in terms of a philanthropic ethos and look pretty indistinguishable to me from all the other aspirational predators keen on grabbing our work, building empires and making money. 

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  1. I followed your link to Stephen Bubb. He's a showoff. I note he mentions an organisation called Working Chances – it works with women ex-offenders, seeks to get them employment. What caught my eye was its claim to have a reoffending rate of 1%. I can't find any link to actual research to show exactly how this figure was achieved and details about the charateristics of the cohort.

    In fact someone from Working Chances was on Radio 4 recently, similarly claiming a 1% reofending rate. If true, this is an astonishing achievement and Working Chances should be funded to the hilt. But if this is a clever piece of self-promoting rhetoric, then it appears to be working, because Bubb is making full use of this headline figure to trumpet the third sector, which apparently invented the probation service, though he does not claim to have been present at its inception.

    1. I hadn't heard of Working Chances and will certainly do a bit of research on them. Thanks for the tip.

  2. Hi
    Sorry to put this here but i wasn't sure where to contact you otherwise..i am Nigel and my blog biggertigger is a blog that tries to highlight and to exhibit Artwork created by serving prisoners and by ex-offenders.
    Of course, the Koestler Trust already offers great prizes and have regular yearly exhibitions in Art galleries of work done by prisoners...but MY aim is to provide a platform for prisoners and ex-offenders who have some artistic talent, to be able to show their work on a site that runs 365 days a year and that champions the huge amount of creative talent that we have locked-up in our prisons.
    Many other countries already have several sites like biggertigger for their own prisoners, and i want to spread the word about my site so that more people get to know the name and what i do. I really need more publicity...but being a recently released ex-prisoners access to, for instance, in-prison education officers and probation services is restricted. I'm looking for some help to get a 'foot in the door' and to be able to bring what i do to the attention of more that i can begin to get a wider selection of artwork and artists onto biggertigger directly from jails if possible, and from probation officers working with ex-offenders in the community.
    But its difficult...and it doesn't help that Art as a subject has been withdrawn now from the general prison population..a move that i think is crazy but that makes my site even more necessary and important.
    I have your blog on my 'blog roll', and i wondered if i might be able to get boggertigger onto yours? This could really help me to increase the traffic onto my site and i would be really grateful if you could allow that to happen?
    And if you might have any other ideas as to how i might be able to help me in my aims i would again be hugely appreciative. Or maybe you yourself know of a budding artist who is an ex-offender...someone who might want to have their work on a website like mine? I only require a good quality pic of their work with some info...and i'll put it on there. I've tried to get own probation officer here in Sheffield interested in it but she doesn't seem to have much interest in Art, which of course is a pity. But i'm still determined to get my idea off the ground and indeed the many others i have for the develoment of biggertigger. But biggertigger has been running now for around 6 months...and already i have close to 100 superb Art pieces on there for everyone to see...and i'm starting to get a slow trickle of visitors to the site. But i need to increase this to a flood if i'm going to get anywhere...and any help would be terific.
    Art provided such a hugely important 'space' for me when i was in helped me to be able to not just understand some of the issues i faced, but for me to be able to express them in ways that were constructive and positive. Art helped me massively and i saw it many helping others..back when Art WAS avaliable to the general population as a form of education.
    Biggertigger aims to get the general public to appreciate the talent of prisoners (while at the same time trying to remind them that prisoners are human beings) and at the same time offering prisoners who enjoy art a place to show-off their efforts.
    Most of the art i did in jail, even though i was doing Art as a full time course was still done 'in-cell' at night....and i want to encourage others to use the usually difficult times 'behind the door' to get involved with producing Art....
    I hope you might be able to help....and thanks for taking the time to read my post.

    1. Nigel,

      Thanks for making contact and for explaining the idea behind your blog site. I hadn't appreciated that art was being withdrawn from prisons and that does strike me as not a good idea. I guess it's just about saving money?

      Anyway I'm happy to add you to my blog roll and wish you well with the site.