Labour to Challenge Government Plans to Break Up Probation

1.     Labour believe the Government’s big gamble with probation is risking public safety
Government plans would see:
·        Local probation trusts abolished in England & Wales, and services commissioned directly by bureaucrats from Whitehall

·        An untried and untested payment by results (PbR) model imposed on the probation service

·        Private companies taking over the supervision of nearly 9 out of 10 offenders released from prison or undertaking community sentences

·        This includes those that have committed domestic violence, burglary, robbery, violence against the person & sexual offenders

·        Supervision of offenders fragmented, at a time when collaboration is needed in order to find efficiencies, all of which risks driving up costs in the long-run2.    

We have 7 major concerns with Government plans for probationI

I     Imposing PbR on probation is untried and untested anywhere in the world

·        This is a serious gamble

·        Pilots were underway to see if it worked (in Staffordshire & West Mids, and Wales Probation Trusts), and to uncover what needed to be ironed out, but these were cancelled by Chris Grayling in his first week as Justice Secretary

II.     They are importing into criminal justice the same approach as used by Chris Grayling when he set up the failing Work Programme

·        The Work Programme, of which Chris Grayling is the architect, has performed so badly, it is actually worse than doing nothing at all

·        Both the Work Programme, and the proposals for probation, are payment by results models

·        Failure in the Work Programme – people failing to get jobs, or jobs not proving sustainable – is bad enough, but in criminal justice, this is potentially dangerous criminals unsupervised and walking the streets unmonitored

III.     They are creating an artificial split between public and private providers, with a suffocating bureaucracy

·        Splitting responsibility for offenders based on their risk level between public and private sector ignores how 25% of offenders see their risk level fluctuate during their time being supervised 

·        Agencies need to respond quickly if risk level accelerates – but this would require a change in responsibility from the private sector to the public sector. No delays can be tolerated, but the bureaucracy risks making this a very cumbersome process

IV.     There is a real risk of ‘cherry picking’

·        PbR runs the risk of skewing the whole approach to rehabilitation

·        Agencies will focus attention on those offenders easiest to rehabilitate, while parking those more difficult offenders with complex and multiple needs

V.     The usual suspect big corporations will hoover up the contracts

·        As in the Work Programme, delivery would be dominated by all the usual suspects –G4S, Serco, Capita, A4E

·        Small and local charities would be squeezed out, as happened in the Work Programme

·        And because private companies delivering public services are exempt from freedom of information, they can’t be held to account for any failings in the same way the public sector can

VI.     They have no idea how much it will all cost

·        The impact assessment for the Offender Rehabilitation Bill lets the cat out of the bag – they have no idea how much all this will cost, or save

·        Also, this is not “payment only on delivery” as some ministers have said – companies will still receive at least 90% of their fee whether they deliver or not

·        The impact assessment states rather vaguely that “the cost will be dependent on the outcome of competition” (p2)

VII.     They have no idea how many offenders are low, medium and high risk

·        Despite splitting responsibility for offenders based on their level of risk, parliamentary questions have revealed the department has no idea how many of the 260,000 offenders looked after by the Probation Service each year are low, medium or high risk

·        In addition, given that responsibility is split between public and private providers depending on the level of risk, the department also admit in answers to parliamentary questions that they do not know how many offenders saw their risk level fluctuate while being supervised

·        Low and medium risk offenders includes those who have committed serious and violent crimes, such as violence, burglary, robbery, violence against the person, sexual offenders and gang related activity

Labour’s Position on the Probation Service

·        Labour acknowledges the challenging job done by all of those in our probation service

·        It is an area of work that gets little public coverage when it is done successfully, yet is thrust into the spotlight on the rare occasions when something goes wrong

·        However, we also acknowledge that re-offending rates are too high and that more needs to be done to improve rehabilitation and break the cycle of re-offending

·        We recognise that success is built on partnership working between agencies (both public, private and voluntary), and on the strength of the relationships between dedicated probation staff and individual offenders

·        These proposals go against the grain of everything we know about what helps to rehabilitate offenders

·        They break up the model of partnership working, and create dangerous artificial divides between public and private providers

·        And that, all in all, there is a real risk to public safety as a result of these ill-thought through changes

·        Labour is calling on the Government to properly pilot the introduction of PbR into probation before rolling it out

·        And to recognise that there are successful ways of working involving public, private and voluntary sector that does not necessitate the need for PbR

·        We are also committed to extending freedom of information legislation so that all public services delivered by private companies and charities are covered