Upgrading electronic monitoring, downgrading probation: Reconfiguring 'offender management' in England and Wales
England and Wales is currently privatizing most of its Probation Service and simultaneously planning to create the largest and most advanced electronic monitoring (EM) scheme in the world, using combined GPS tracking and radio frequency technology. Downgrading one, upgrading the other.
Using a mix of published and unpublished sources, discussions with some key players in these developments, (and a ‘critical policy analysis’ perspective), this article begins by documenting the post-2010 development of GPS tracking, and the emergence of strong police support for its large-scale use. It notes the role of a right-wing think tank, Policy Exchange, in promoting the view that the GPS-based tracking of offenders’ movements is an intrinsically superior form of ‘electronic monitoring’ that should fully replace the discredited but still prevailing radio frequency EM, which can only restrict people to a single location.
In the course of devising a third contract with commercial organizations to deliver EM, it transpired that the incumbent providers had been systematically overcharging the government for their services. Although a public scandal, and a series of official enquires – summarized here – resulted from this, the general momentum behind the outsourcing of penal interventions has not been slowed: the Conservative-led Coalition government is pursuing a relentlessly neoliberal agenda, driven far more by financial imperatives and technological preferences than anything that makes proper penal sense.
The creation of a large, advanced GPS-based EM programme may not in fact work out in practice, but the government’s readiness to envision it shows where untrammelled neoliberalism points in respect of ‘offender management’ techniques. Although England and Wales have always been anomalous in their fully privatized delivery of EM, its preparedness to invest massively in GPS tracking and to simultaneously sacrifice the state-based Probation Service should serve to warn other European services of the penal challenges that neoliberalism may present them with.Highlights from the conclusion:-
It is clear from the foregoing analysis of policy that recent developments in Probation and EM in England and Wales gained massive impetus from the technocratic, ethics-free, ‘better for less’ imperative of the Ministry of Justice’s all too aptly named Transforming Justice (and Transforming Rehabilitation) strategy. Both developments were latent in the previous New Labour government’s policies; indeed the Coalition tried initially to privatise probation by using old New Labour legislation, before being forced by critics to draft their own (Bardens et al., 2013). In respect of EM, Policy Exchange pushed the Coalition's strategy further than New Labour had envisioned, re-imagining EM as a nationwide upgrade to GPS tracking (which it hoped would eclipse the poor public public and media image that rf EM has acquired). None of this owed much to academic research on good penal practice or to nuanced understandings of penal philosophy and jurisprudence; their underpinning rationalities, in the first instance, were financial and technological, rather than penal.
It would once been unthinkable to terminate Probation as a public service, but Transforming Justice made it seriously thinkable. While Punishment and Reform (Ministry of Justice 2012) did not make it explicit, Probation's downgrading does seem to be strategically connected to the intended mass expansion of GPS tracking. It is certainly part of an ideological 'ground-clearing' that will potentially create space for a re-invented upgraded form of EM to be come a more commonplace, standard feature of offender management within a much more mixed economy of provision. Historically, in England and Wales, the Probation Service has been the cornerstone of community supervision: it long represented the person-centred ideal of offender supervision, and functioned (among other things) as a durable ethical touchstone against which the humanity and desirability of other penal interventions were measured. Its enforced demise means both the loss of a symbol, an institution and a practice against which stand-alone electronic surveillance had always been judged a dubious, lesser - and potentially regressive - measure.
The kind of penal transformation that has mattered most to liberal penal reformers, and to which a modest, imaginative use of probation-based EM might once have contributed, is no longer on offer, at least in England and Wales. Given the momentum that EM is gaining worldwide, partly on the back of neoliberal agendas, the difficulties of upholding traditional penal ideals should not be underestimated; without vigorous and informed contestation, it may well be probation rather than prison services that are shrunk by increased political investment in EM.It looks like there's a hitch with the Welsh 'Titan' prison according to the NewsNorthWales website:-
A LACK of clarity surrounding the construction of the Wrexham “super-prison” has been criticised.
For months the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been saying work will begin on the huge Wrexham Industrial Estate jail “this summer”, but full planning permission is yet to be granted by Wrexham Council for the project. Despite a contractor being selected, no start date for the massive build has been publicised. The prison will pump million of pounds into the regional economy and provide hundreds of jobs. But an MoJ spokesman said yesterday there was no update on when construction would start on the prison, to be built on the former-Firestone factory site on the Industrial Estate.
Wrexham MP Ian Lucas said he was “surprised” work has not yet begun to build the prison considering the initial timescale given by the MoJ. He said: “I can’t understand why there hasn’t been any clear indication as to when building work will begin given the construction contract was announced in May. “They did say it was going to be summer but I am a bit surprised it hasn’t started yet. “I haven’t received any information from the MoJ but I will be making enquiries as to when construction will begin.”
Full planning permission is yet to be granted on the £212 million jail, while no decision has been taken as to whether it will be run privately or by the state. In May, it was revealed a £151 million contract to build the ‘super-prison’ had been awarded to Lend Lease, an international leader in property and infrastructure, who originate from Australia. About 600-700 workers are likely to be employed during the construction phase. In June, prisons minister Jeremy Wright said the prison is likely to avoid having a direct link with the town in its name. But he also refused to rule out the possibility of category B prisoners being housed in the prison despite initial plans to only house category C prisoners.
The prison is estimated to create about 1,000 jobs when operational and boost the regional economy by bringing in about £23m per year. It is hoped it will be built and be fully operational by September 2017.Trouble is brewing with plans to close award-winning HMP Askham Grange as reported in the York Free Press:-
CONCERNS are building over the planned closure of a women's prison in York which has been given glowing reports by inspectors.
Askham Grange open prison in Askham Richard is due to be closed by the Ministry of Justice so prisoners can serve sentences closer to home. However the decision is understood to be the subject of a judicial review after prisoners asked for it to remain open. The prison has a record of having among the lowest re-conviction rates in the country and is the only open prison with the facilities to allow mothers to stay with their young children.
It has also now been announced that Askham Grange has also been awarded the highest possible rating in recent inspections by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons and by Ofsted. The inspections prove it makes "no sense" to close the prison which is an "asset to the justice system", the Prison Officers' Association (POA) said. A spokesperson said:
"Following a recent HMIP inspection HMP Askham Grange has been awarded the highest possible rating in safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement. To reinforce their success HMP Askham Grange was awarded the highest possible rating by Ofsted. HMP Askham Grange is an asset to the justice system in terms of rehabilitation and clearly provides value for money for the taxpayer. If there is to be a Rehabilitation Revolution it makes no sense to continue with plans to close HMP Askham Grange."
Earlier this year The Independent Monitoring Board described the decision to close the prison as "baffling". It warned that shutting Askham Grange open prison could lead to an increased risk of re-offending.
A prison service spokesperson would not comment at what stage the judicial review is at, only saying "discussions are ongoing between both sides". They said:
Here's the uplifting message from the Prison's Minister to all those in the 'country's first National Probation Service'. I'm sure we had one before, but we've been messed about that much it's difficult to remember:-"The planned closure of the two open women’s prisons is currently subject to ongoing litigation, so it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time. We keep plans for our prison estate under constant review. We make sure we have the prisons we need in the most suitable locations and are able to deliver the most effective rehabilitation of all female prisoners. We will always have enough prison places for those sent to us by the courts and continue to meet the needs of female prisoners."
It is a great honour to have been appointed Minister for Prison, Probation and Rehabilitation.
I know from my work as an MP the devastation offenders can cause for victims and for the communities they operate in, and how important it is for professionals to work with them to help change their behaviour.
I am the patron of a homeless charity in my constituency of South West Bedfordshire, and many of those who have been through the criminal justice system can end up without somewhere to live.
We are rightly here to protect society from these offenders by enforcing the punishments of the courts. We are also here to reduce reoffending and rehabilitate offenders and we do this by helping them change their lives. Those working in probation often deal with offenders when they can be at their lowest point and when many others have turned away from them. The role you have in protecting society and helping others is often over looked or misunderstood by wider public but make no mistake: it is a vital one.
I know that the recent Transforming Rehabilitation programme has been challenging for staff and it has created uncertainty. We know we are still working through some of the issues arising, as you would expect following a change of this scale, and we are grateful for your hard work in particular during the period of public ownership of the CRCs.
I do not underestimate the impact these changes have had on staff and I would like to thank you all for your work in bringing the reforms to this stage.
I truly believe that the changes we are bringing in are for the right reasons. TR will allow us to reshape the way we deal with offenders. We can now introduce supervision for those sentenced to under 12 months, a group we know are most likely to reoffended. We can create a Through the Gate prison service which will enable offenders to finish their sentence as close to home as possible, with the same people working with them through their release.Finally, some CRC's have clearly had second thoughts about funding 'free' membership of the Probation Institute:-
Over the next few months, I am keen to see how you are shaping the country’s first National Probation Service and how the interaction between the NPS and CRCs is developing. I found my recent visits to probation offices in London and Wales and conversations with NPS and CRC staff there extremely instructive. I want to get out to the frontline as much as is possible, and to hear from as many of you as I can.
The probation service has always had a strong reputation and I look forward to working with you all to build on that and to being part of the overall criminal justice transformation.
Andrew Selous, Minister for Prisons, Probation and Rehabilitation
The Probation Institute is an independent not-for-profit organisation. It aims to become a recognised Centre of Excellence on probation practice, applying rigorous standards to the assessment of research and other evidence and its implications for the delivery of services that protect the public and rehabilitate offenders
Membership is voluntary and open to individual practitioners and corporate organisations concerned with the rehabilitation of offenders.
Membership is open to all staff working in the probation sector, regardless of grade, qualification and job type.
Benefits of early membership include: A discounted rate of £20 for standard membership and £5 for students (in 2015-2016 these fees are expected to be £40 and £10 respectively).
Any individuals wishing to join can do so by visiting the Probation Institute website
The CRC Executive have been approached by the Probation Institute to consider corporate membership. After a discussion, which took into account the decision taken by NOMs not to support corporate membership for the NPS, our use of public money and our desire for more information about the Probation Institute, it was decided corporate membership would not be pursued at this time.