I say historic because you will soon become aware that the United Kingdom government have taken the extraordinary decision to abolish the London Probation Trust from April next year, along with all the other Trusts that cover the rest of England and Wales. The majority of the work will be privatised and handed over to global corporations with suspect backgrounds such as G4S.
The minister responsible, the Rt Hon Christopher Grayling MP, Lord Chancellor and Minister of Justice will be addressing you later today, and I sincerely hope many of you will find the opportunity to question this unique decision, which flies in the face of custom and practice throughout the rest of the world.
It should be noted that this policy is being imposed in the face of widespread derision and opposition, without any evidential basis and significantly does not include Scotland or Northern Ireland. Although 'Transforming Rehabilitation' is being 'spun' by the government as being all about ensuring improving outcomes, it's actually driven by an ideological desire to shrink the size of the public sector and hopefully save money.
To mark the start of the conference, criminal justice academic and researcher Rob Allen has also penned a special conference blog highlighting what dangerous consequences can flow from cost-cutting within the criminal justice system. He cites the damning recent report into brand new HMP Oakwood, a prison operated by G4S and one of the global companies expected to end up running much of probation here in England and Wales from 2015.
According to the inspector's report, it is easier to obtain drugs than soap at the prison due to cost-saving by G4S. This BBC news report catalogues the main failings identified:-
- High drug usage and poor management of drug supply and demand
- Health provision "very poor" and "chaotic" management of medication
- Standards of teaching were poor
- Too many prisoners felt unsafe and levels of violence and victimisation were high
- Levels of self-harm were also high
- Frustration common among inmates who said they routinely resorted to the complaints system to address issues
- The care needs of some prisoners with disabilities were not met
- Access to basic cleaning and toiletry items was poor, with one obese inmate saying he had insufficient clothing to enable him to leave his cell during association time
- Amount of time spent out of cells was good for employed inmates, but not for those unemployed
- Prison staff were often inexperienced and failed to deal with poor behaviour in an attempt to avoid confrontation
- Inspectors said staff were sometimes "passive and compliant, almost to the point of collusion"
Safety, reliability, and respect may not sound as significant as innovation but they are as important in probation work as in prisons.The Oakwood report should be a wake up call not only about plans for large scale super prisons but the privatisation of probation too. The Justice Secretary should use his speech at the Congress to call a halt while a proper evaluation of his policies is undertaken.
Opposition to these plans is widespread and not just amongst many politicians, practitioners, and academics, but significantly informed service users and clients as well. Here is someone writing in the Independent newspaper about their recent experience of custody and what the privatisation of probation within prison is like:-
Putting “transformed” probation services into this context, my situation veered from unfortunate to catastrophic. Approaching release, my rehabilitation issues were evident. I was bankrupt, without accommodation, possessions subject to confiscation proceedings; even access to my only child was subject to my release on temporary licence. I urgently needed internal probation assistance in order to plan an existence.
In the event, it was three months before I met my probation “supervisor” (not “officers” in the new regime), on a career direction from the financial services industry, who provided minimal practical assistance, concentrating on reassessing my offender risk by reference to Google – an assessment that was subsequently destroyed by my local probation trust on my eventual release because of its partisan irrelevance.
Formerly a 50% tax payer without experience of state benefits, I was told – and believed – that I was ineligible for income support and housing benefit. Assisting me in opening a bank account was “too difficult.”Delegates should be in no doubt that feelings are running high here about the wanton destruction of a 107-year old world class public service. Probation staff from all over the country will today be lobbying their MP's just up the road from the QEII conference centre at the Palace of Westminster.
Their union Napo is currently conducting a ballot of members on the issue of industrial action which may include the very drastic step of striking. There may be union members outside the conference centre and they will be happy to explain to delegates what is really going on here in the host country and before you hear from the minister later on.
For the sake of a profession we all care passionately about, please take the opportunity of this World Congress to ask some searching questions about the reasons for our government wanting to destroy it. Thankyou.