Probation offices. Taken at a protest over the 2014 splitting of the probation service. Photo: Phil Hedges
Probation contracts handed to the private sector despite falls in reoffending
On 1 February, 70 per cent of the probation service was handed to the private sector, yet only last week, the government’s own statistics revealed that the probation service was working relatively well prior to the government’s disastrous reforms in 2014. These recent MoJ figures further undermine the necessity for the transfer of ownership.
Ministry of Justice (MoJ) statistics show that between 2011 and 2013, the number of repeat offences was down 8 per cent, to 421,050 and the number of reoffenders fell 11 per cent to 140,092. Despite these figures, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is determined that private sector involvement is necessary.
In a recent article in the Independent, both Napo and the Howard League for Penal Reform note that the figures show that the system was working fairly well. Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League argued that “the changes are more about ego”, while a spokeswoman for Napo argued that the government’s figures “are evidence that the probation service was working effectively prior to the government’s reforms.”
We have blogged previously about the chaos in the probation service following the MoJ’s reforms, called Transforming Rehabilitation. Under the reforms, the probation service was split in two in June 2014, with 21 new community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) set up to supervise low-medium risk offenders. The remaining 30 per cent, of high risk offenders, will continue to be managed by the state, via the new National Probation Service (NPS).
The CRCs have now been handed to the private sector, with a few multinational outsourcing companies very prominent among the new owners (see the published list of the owners of CRCs here), in contrast to government press releases which note the inclusion of “a diverse range of public, private and voluntary organisations”. Sodexo and Interserve, for example, are leading over half of the CRCs, while Ingeus UK, a further multinational, will be leading two CRCs. Only one CRC, Durham Tees Valley, has been awarded to a joint venture in which there is no large private company or multinational (or an organisation with large multinationals as shareholders), as a prominent partner.
The new MoJ reoffending figures add weight to the existing lack of evidence for the sale, including the absence of any proper piloting. A range of concerns have been raised about the payment-by-results (PbR) model under which the CRC contracts will operate. Not least among these concerns are that the model, whereby providers earn money if offenders do not commit further crimes, will lead to so-called ‘cherry-picking’ of the ‘easiest-to-help’ offenders. The ‘hardest-to-help’ offenders will then very likely be ‘parked’, as we have seen in the Work Programme, and society will be left to foot the bill.
The combination of a flawed contracting model for the CRCs, with the involvement of large multinational outsourcing companies as leading providers, risks derailing the progress made so far in reducing reoffending. As the reforms are untested and have caused chaos in the probation service, they also represent a huge risk to public safety.
As a window into the current chaos enveloping the probation service, it has recently been revealed that “about half of probation workers have not had any training at all on what it is they are expected to do“, in regard to their new supervisory roles. Further, there are reports that there is a near total breakdown in communication between the two parts of the service – the NPS and the CRCs.
Trade union Napo launched a Judicial Review against the outsourcing process including the sale of the CRCs. During this process, the MoJ provided documented evidence detailing “significant failures with the new system.” The MoJ has still not published the documentation, yet has gone ahead with the sale regardless. Napo note that the probation service is “in utter chaos, with IT systems failing…significant staff shortages and excessive workloads.”
In a further development, today, one day after the CRC handover, probation Chief Inspector Paul McDowell has resigned, following a perceived conflict of interest, which, some noted, might have compromised the independence of his role. McDowell’s wife is a senior manager at Sodexo, which has been awarded a large number of the new CRC contracts.
Please take a look at the TUC’s Speak up for Justice campaign for more information on our campaigning work, and please sign our petition calling on the government to stop gambling with our justice system.