My day job was in the Probation Service. Under a succession of hostile home Secretaries starting with Jack Straw, it has changed out of all recognition since I retired, but nothing gave any warning of this government’s plans to give it the final coup de grâce. This blog is rather different from my usual topic, but regular readers will I hope understand my concern. In general I recommend another blog – Probation Matters – for a much fuller account of the appalling course of events, but today’s Observer (15th December) contains a damning account based on internal risk assessments. In case the government try to say that that is what you would expect an internal assessment to say, the British Journal of Community Justice ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ – under the microscope says the same and more.
Coup de grâce? Well no, according to Justice Minister Jeremy Wright, just another privatization, which he insists “will see the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors working together to break the depressing cycle of reoffending.” But bearing in mind that privatization of the NHS is proceeding apace with rather less media attention than one might have hoped for, and the Probation Service is somewhat smaller, the government do not seem to have troubled to offer much in the way of justification. The Probation Service is generally acknowledged to be a world-class service which has won awards for its work. Probation Officers have two years of training after graduation, regular professional development and refresher trainings ongoing at all times, constant oversight by government. – All this is being replaced by private profit motives or by voluntary groups with no training. Of course voluntary groups will have difficulty bidding against the likes of Serco and G4S, who are fresh from being stripped of their contracts to monitor tagged offenders.
But consider this from the viewpoint of the individual PO. Many have no idea whether they will have jobs or not a few months hence. NAPO (the POs union) has tried to negotiate with the Ministry of Justice, but Chris Grayling has made it clear that privatization will take place, come Hell or high water. Like the Welfare ‘reforms’, a timetable which bears no relation to any rationale is being pushed through. If a reorganization of this magnitude were being seriously proposed on any sensible grounds, a normal minimum expectation would be a pilot scheme or schemes. At least Iain Duncan Smith did try that, albeit shambolically.
But again, as with the abolition of benefits, the most despicable and dismaying aspect of all this is the apathy among politicians who should be screaming blue murder. Given their abstention on IDS’s reversal of a High Court decision against one of his more egregious ‘welfare reform’ measures, one’s expectations of the Labour Party had to be non-existent, but the Lib Dems???