HOW CHRIS GRAYLING MISLED PARLIAMENT OVER THE OFFENDER REHABILITATION BILL:
1. He misled Parliament over re-offending rates
Mr Grayling’s case for privatisation was based on the reiterated claim that half of those leaving prison are currently re-convicted within a year. This is false:
- It is true that 58% of those leaving prison after sentences of under 12 months re-offend, but, contrary to Mr Grayling’s repeated suggestion, the Probation Service does not supervise these offenders.
- 36.2% of those leaving prison after sentences of 1 - 4 years re-offend and 30.7% of those leaving prison after sentences of 4 - 10 years re-offend. The Probation Service does supervise these offenders and it is notable that the re-offending rates are significantly reduced.
- So Mr Grayling disparages the service for their lack of success in cases they do not supervise, and neglects to commend them for demonstrable success in cases he ignores.
2. He misled Parliament over the necessity for part privatising the Probation Service to work with the under 12 months custody cases
Mr Grayling claimed that the Probation Service could not provide a viable, costed and economic plan for the supervision of those sentenced to under 12 months in prison. In fact, he was notified that several pilots have been taking place: for instance in Gloucestershire, Avon and Somerset and Yorkshire. These are either very-low cost initiatives funded by the PCC or are within existing budgets. Mr Grayling’s ignoring of cost-effective pilots within the Probation Service highlights his wilful refusal to explore and cost such alternatives and to run any meaningful pilots.
Further evidence of this can be seen in the national meeting of Probation chiefs and chairs addressed by Mr Grayling and Mr Jeremy Wright, Minister for Prisons and Rehabilitation, a year ago, early in 'Transforming Rehabilitation'. One of the chairs raised in the meeting the willingness of his Trust and others to manage the addition of under 12 months custodial cases with whatever cost saving was required. The minutes show that the response was that this option was not going to be pursued, but that no reason was given for refusing such a rational course of action.
3. He misled Parliament over the reasons for his refusal to pilot ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’
Repeatedly, Mr Grayling and Mr Wright claimed that the time-frame would not allow for Probation Service pilots for those sentenced to under 12 months custody. They said that they could not wait for a pilot because of the urgent and overriding need for supervision for these ex-prisoners, and Liberal Democrat support was largely conditional on this presentation of the pressing issue (time and again couched rhetorically as the issue of dealing with short-term prisoners being released 'with just £46 in their pocket' ). Yet Vera Baird QC, PCC for Newcastle, has now confirmed that this 'won't be happening any time soon'' according to her private contact with Mr Wright.
4. He misled Parliament over saving money by pressing ahead with ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ against all expert advice
Potential bidders for TR are driving such a hard bargain with the Ministry of Justice that the deadline for Prime Contractors has been extended to June 30th. Promises that 50% of bidders would be Mutuals and/or Charities, and the government criterion or requirement that there would be three bidders at least may not be fulfilled:
- Some package areas only have one bidder, others two at the most and some no bidders at all
- These bidders are increasingly becoming solely multinational companies and conglomerates, including ‘Sentinel’ who are connected to G4S and specialise in GPS tracking and kiosk check-in
Finally here, it needs emphasising that ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ is not going to save money. It has already cost in excess of £125,000,000 and £9,000,000 has been spent on legal fees and consultants. There is no final estimate, and a senior civil servant has admitted that they have no idea how much it is will cost the Ministry of Justice.
At this point it is irresistible to draw some of these threads together and conclude that the government have work to do to counter this impression: that this is a case of a highly successful, long-standing and professional public service being dismantled without genuine reason, and at great cost and risk to the public, merely so that private firms, and the politicians associated with them, can benefit.
5. He misled Parliament over promises that the risk to the public would not be increased
There are numerous instances emerging of significant and increased risk to the public at the time of writing - the middle of only the second week of ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’. Here are just two representative cases, selected for their importance, from what is inevitably a volatile and many-faceted situation, but for which there is much more evidence available:
Regarding sex offenders:
- Inexperienced staff are dealing with sex offenders. Speaking to the BBC, an anonymous probation officer working for the Durham Tees Valley Probation Service raised serious concerns that staff would only receive two days training to deal with sex offenders.
- Thames Valley Sex Offenders’ Programme is unable to run in some areas in the South West as the amount of National Probation Service staff allocated was miscalculated. Judges in Crown Courts are seriously frustrated at their inability to sentence offenders to programmes.
- The Ministry of Justice deny there is a serious staffing issue, with staff leaving the profession and caseloads rocketing, but our reports suggest otherwise and a FOI request by the Labour Party has disclosed that nationally there are at least 500 vacancies for Probation Officers.
- There are offices reportedly in danger of disintegration because of sickness, resignations and non-viable staff allocations. Specifically, the National Probation Service/Community Rehabilitation Company staffing split has resulted in unworkable imbalances in staff allocation and massive caseloads for some colleagues.
- Cases being split between NPS and CRC are 'falling through the cracks' due to lack of information being shared (and shareable). Computer systems have been described as ‘in serious meltdown’. One issue, for instance, is that the police are refusing to provide background information on Domestic Violence for cases being dealt with by CRC staff.
‘I am a Probation Officer in a CRC. Last month I was managing 40+ cases, either high risk of harm, sex offenders, serious mental health problems or domestic violence. I was writing a Pre-Sentence Report a week and Parole and breach reports when needed. This week I have 17 cases, no reports to write and once I've caught up on the backlog of the previous difficult caseload.... very little to do. Meanwhile, my Probation Service Officer colleague has 91 cases, my old colleagues in NPS are overwhelmed and we are advertising for people to come from Australia and New Zealand to do what I was doing and still can do. Just bloody bonkers.’