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It is time to rethink privatised probation services

It is time to rethink privatised probation services
3 min read

Labour MP and Justice Committee member Ellie Reeves writes ahead of her debate today on private probation services.

Today I am leading a Westminster Hall debate on the future of probation services; an issue which highlights many of the problems caused by ill-judged privatisation within our justice system.

The separation of probation services in 2014 and the formation of the public National Probation Service and the outsourced Community Rehabilitation Schemes (CRCs) caused alarm at the time with individuals highlighting the potential for organisational difficulties and negative impacts on rehabilitation work. Three and a half years later, a recent National Audit Office report has shown that CRCs have, on average, met just 8 of the 24 targets set to them by the Ministry of Justice.

When a prisoner is in the transition stage at the end of their sentence, they should be given complete and thorough assistance with accommodation, finance and their long-term employment prospects. The ‘Through the Gate’ strategy aims to support offenders through the various stages of their release. However, CRCs have failed time and time again in improving the prospects of those they were set up to help. A 2017 joint report between HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons report dismissed the work almost entirely stating that even if the “services were removed tomorrow, the impact on the resettlement of prisoners would be negligible”.

Staff, who were previously employed by the probation services, have since reported that morale is low with many feeling that the work they are doing is inadequate to the work they were doing prior to the 2014 changes. 25% of respondents to a UNISON survey reported that that they only occasionally had the equipment, resources or systems to do their job properly. 

The failings within these organisations may be repeatedly highlighted but these seem to be continually ignored within the Government, who last July set in motion a series of payments, predicted to amount to £342 million, which have been put in place to bailout CRCs because of misjudged planning on their part. Instead of fining poor performing CRCs or ending their contract early, the Government see it fit to pay them millions more, not least at a time when there are other parts of our justice system in dire need of investment such as our aging prisons and the lack of services within them.

Probation is not a box ticking exercise, nor is it a profession that should be solely driven on targets. It should be based on a well-rounded approach centred on the individual and their needs. I firmly believe that this is not possible under the current arrangement of outsourcing probation to those in pursuit of little else other than profit. 

The system we have appears to be a combination of failures that continue to let down offenders and waste taxpayers’ money. It is time, once and for all, for these failed schemes are brought back under public control so that we can get to the root causes of reoffending and provide rehabilitation services that are fit for purpose.

Ellie Reeves is the Labour MP for Lewisham West and Penge

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