Chapter One, or How it All Began
If you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin. Once upon a time, two groups of people who hadn’t been voted in to power, decided to get together to govern, and to implement policies for which no-one had voted either. So far so good (unless you are not a neo-liberal psychopath, of course). One problem though was that they didn’t see eye to eye on everything (or anything much), which leads to our story - the ‘tale of Transforming Rehabilitation’, or ‘The Custody Games’.
So to begin (again). In the early days, as if goosed by the ghost of Lloyd George, and little dissuaded by their total collapse over tuition fees (sorry about that electorate), the Lib Dems tried to assert their fitness for power, and to re-assert their cojones by stating that they wanted under 12 month custodial cases supervised. (Less this be thought self-interested too, one should emphasise that there was no thought at this stage that Chris Huhne might be in need of this support: though who knows, a referral to ETE might have landed him something more lucrative than his current Guardian gig).
Anyhow, back to it, and some more detailed stuff (wake up there). A reliable source of Harry Fletcher’s has told us that Chris Grayling (for ‘twas he) apparently then told the Lib Dems that evidence pointed to only a likely maximum 8% reduction in recidivism in this group and this would mean that the 60% re-offending rate would only be reduced to 52% and that this wasn’t worth attempting. The Lib Dems then, apparently, uncharacteristically stamped their tiny collective foot, with the result that the Tories characteristically stamped their huge jackboot, demanding full privatisation of the Probation Service in exchange. Out of this mix of happenstance, conspiracy and cock-up Jeremy Wright or someone had a light bulb-moment, and the quite brilliant (well, ok, cynical etc. etc) idea of transforming those with ‘only £46 in their pocket’ into the key players in ‘the custody games’. (This is the key bit) Without any real belief in more than an 8% reduction in re-offending, he thus turned them into the excuse for privatisation. It is for conjecture only that any additional bonus of a lifelong place on the board of Sodexo, Carillion, Capita, Amey, Sentinel or Interserve in any way entered his ambitious brain. Have you noticed how all the names of these companies have a lilting feminine sound, while also suggesting independence and fortitude? It is as if they offer tough, empathetic, love, and will be mummy and daddy both. Personally speaking I am totally taken in, and would never mistake them for hard-nosed, parasitic, evasive, profiteering, incompetent, monopolistic… (sorry, better stop there, or I could mention that my husband thinks they sound equally like treatments for thrush or erectile dysfunction).
Anyhow (again), back to our story again. At this point the Lib Dems somehow managed to persuade the Tories to drop the full privatisation. One highly developed and nuanced analysis I have heard was along the lines of ‘we can’t have psychopaths wandering around committing violent crimes on our watch’, which either stirred up genuinely empathic feelings in the Conservatives (I like to think so) or conjured up images of Sun headlines, (you would think that, wouldn’t you – have you no faith in people to mend their ways, you probation officers?). Whatever the truth, an amicable deal was struck.
Chapter Two, or How it all begins to fall apart
So, what do we now know about the supervision of the under 12 months? Following the announcement of ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ there was a meeting in January 2013 of the MOJ and the Chiefs and Chairs. Here Joe Kuipers offered for his trust to make any cost savings the MOJ needed in order to supervise the under 12 months group and said that he was confident other trusts would do the same. He was told that this was ‘not on the table’.
The MOJ (for whom enterprise and innovation means doing what every neo-liberal government has been doing since the glory days of General Pinochet) showed they were not interested either in the existing examples of genuinely innovative projects undertaken within the existing Probation Service, to fill this gap within existing provision at relatively little cost and without the need for a speedy, risky, ideologically driven privatization (as some might say). In my own county, Gloucestershire, a project has been established to work with these offenders on a voluntary basis, funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner and costed at £75,000 per annum. The number of offenders affected is 20 per month. My righteous ire over this led me to wag my tiny finger at Mr Grayling (he is not tiny – think of three traffic bollards on top of each other) when he came to the Gloucester office. I vented; ‘You are selling us off for 20 people a month, 20 people a month’! His dead fish eyes did not liven up, I’m afraid to say, but earlier in the meeting he had stared at me, as if to exercise his implacable right to govern (or to menace and intimidate at least). That said, I am sure his mother loves him… possibly.
More broadly, there are proven, existing cost-effective successes in the public sector:
- Research by Sheffield Hallam University shows the Surrey/Sussex Probation Trust project using offenders with a high risk of re-offending, not volunteers. Over the period 2012/13 the ‘Integrated Offender Management’ scheme reduced re-offending by an average of 52.3%, and demonstrated economic viability. Over a 5-year period, for every £1 invested in IOM, there was a saving (due to the reduction in re-offending) for the tax-payer of £1.59. Over a 10-year period, the saving increased to £1.79 per every £1 spent.
- Research by London Councils similarly found that the IOM reduced re-offending by 55% in the London Borough of Islington. Islington IOM saved money - the cost of crime fell from £523,264 to £295,108 mainly resulting from domestic burglary. London Councils has also highlighted the local partnerships, including in the voluntary sector, which have had success in reducing re-offending and are concerned that national procurement will overlook those local relationships.
- The West Midlands region ran the ReConnect Programme to engage with those sentenced to under 12 months in an effort to ensure that they were engaged with the services most likely to empower and support them. In 2007 the national re-offending rate was 75%; through engagement with this group of offenders the project was able to reduce the re-offending rates to 19% below the national average within the West Midlands area.
So, Grayling and his crew have air-brushed out of the ‘debate’ the innovative, resourceful, professional, caring, clever successes of the Probation Service, in trying to plug the very gap that they are using as the pretext for their privatizing racket. At this point I can’t help taking a quote from ‘Private Eye’ that is reproduced on the blog:
“In so many areas of modern life, the managerial culture hates expertise. People who know something, who are really interested in something, make managers feel inadequate and pointless. So they aim to create organisations that consist entirely of managers, and computer screens” (Piloti)
All true, and in this case the avoidance is not merely of the professionals, but of the facts.
Chapter Three – Brave New World (or To Hell in a Handcart)
So, what does the future look like?
During the passage of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill through the House of Commons, Labour MPs were not adequately briefed as to possibilities for exploring viable (and competent, and trustworthy) alternatives to the private companies. While watching on TV, I peeped over from behind the sofa to watch the following exchange between the principled Elfyn Llwyd (hurrah, hurrah, hurrah) and oleaginous Jeremy Wright (boo boo boo):
Jeremy Wright: I understand that that is what the right hon. Gentleman wants, but can he explain how it would be paid for?
Mr Llwyd: I am sure that it could be paid for by the delivery of some savings here and there in other parts of the budget.
Personally speaking, my conviction has always been that the Tories used the seeming lack of an alternative and the expense of ‘custody plus’ as excuses for doing what their paymasters (their real constituents: the corporations and lobbyists) wished for. After all, if money were ever really the driver, Jeremy Wright would have snapped up Joe Kuipers’ offer and accepted the innovation of an area such as Gloucestershire with its generous PCC. Again, the PCA and Napo paid the Centre for Crime and Social Justice £15,000 to do a cost analysis for the supervision and it has come out nearly as pricey as ‘custody plus’. Richard Garside, who led the research, was unable to release the figures but Harry Fletcher tells me that it worked out at £120,000,000 p.a. for the 40-50,000 sentenced to less than 12 months for a full package of supervision. If this is reduced to basic supervision with say, monthly reporting and I presume signposting this is reduced to £80-90,000,000. So the private companies need to deliver this amount of money for the supervision. However, there was never any costing made by the government to show how this would be achieved.
Back to the ping-pong between Mr Wright and Mr Llwyd:
Mr Llwyd: …..Well, it is first of all incumbent on him, being in government, to come up with figures, not to test figures put forward from the Opposition Benches.
Jeremy Wright: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way; I know he is short of time. The point is that I know how I will pay for it, but he does not. [Hon. Members: “How?] I will pay for it by the competition process.
So there we have it. He will pay for it by the ‘competition process’. Now, I am a mere ex Probation Officer who understands little about business but I do know that this competition process is in serious disarray and I continued to scratch my head about how they were going to pay for it. That is, until I read Harry Fletcher quoted in ‘Private Eye’ and heard that Chris Grayling is set to announce new electronic tagging this week, plus remembering that even mild-mannered Ken Clarke said there would be a tenfold increase in tagging by 2019, as well as hearing about virtual jails in the community and lastly, finding out about Sentinel being in the running for our whole South West and seeing their specializing in tagging and check-in kiosks as well as their genius idea of actually charging for Probation!
So, we know that 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. Harry has it spot on in ‘Private Eye’ when he tells us that there are no plans to extend supervision until 2015/16 at the earliest and, of course, tagging is cheaper and simpler than rehabilitation (and if you charge for the privilege, money is presumably no object).
So, these are the custody games! They are being played out in front of our eyes and there are many victims: the trashed public sector workers, who are experts at what they do, and the poor and vulnerable who will be tagged when ‘released with £46 in their pockets’, improving no end their chances of turning their lives around. But no less victims are the democratic process, and political discourse that is now an exercise in disguising motives that have no democratic basis, implemented in this case by politicians with no mandate, and whose every word hollows out further their legitimacy and authority. And perhaps the final victim is truth, trampled into the ground by the serial offenders whose misinformation shapes this whole situation, politicians whose power is that of a ventriloquist dummy in the last analysis, mouthing the words of the corporate fucks whose hands are up their backs. Where is Katniss Everdeen when we need her? Or a Labour leader? Even Lloyd George? Or anyone except Grayling?