Cell door closes on probation reforms

By Sean Creaney

| 26 June 2017

A report jointly produced by Chief Inspectors of Probation and Prisons slammed the probation reforms, specifically the 'through the gate' services. As a matter of urgency, properly resourced Youth Offending Teams must now hold onto young people, who would normally transition to the adult system at 18, until they reach the age of 21.

The probation reforms are a growing scandal. Far from turning around the lives of those most vulnerable and damaged in society, the reforms are not meeting the needs of offenders or offering protection to the public. Alongside being ineffective in terms of failing to reform adults in the justice system, they have also damaged the morale and reputation of the probation service; a reputation for good public service tarnished by an ideologically-driven tendering process. Prior to the reforms, the probation service worked relatively well, not only supporting people who offend but meeting the needs of victims.

Introduced via the Transforming Rehabilitation policy in 2014, the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) have shown not to be properly supporting offenders who are being released from prison, in particular in terms of finding them suitable accommodation and stable employment. Staff from CRCs seem to have been focussing on report writing rather than the effective delivery of care, treatment and rehabilitation.

In other words, practitioners are spending too much time on resettlement plans and not addressing the needs of offenders, particularly those suffering from poor mental health and experiencing substance misuse issues.

Clearly privatisation of the justice system does not work. As the Conservative Party handcuff themselves to the Democratic Unionist Party in order to form a new government, what chance is there of these reforms being reversed and what will happen to payment by results when re-offending figures are published in October?

With CRCs underperforming and specifically not achieving the results required of them, whether they receive payment is now debatable. Clearly, this payment by results model is not innovating and is not making a real difference - with rare and small scale exceptions.

If this probation experiment continues, it will be for ideological reasons rather than the effective pursuit of rehabilitation and public protection. With CRCs not meeting the needs of people who offend, the upper age limit of the youth justice system must be extended until 21 and additional resources found, as a matter of urgency. It is the only way the needs of young people can be addressed.

Sean Creaney is an advisor at social justice charity Peer Power

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