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TUC 2018 The Tories' failing programme for probation just stacks up the problems for the future

IT’S been four years since the introduction of former justice secretary Chris Grayling’s so-called Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) programme to rehabilitate offenders in England and Wales which has been under heavy scrutiny since before its inception.

If it wasn’t for Napo and our members pointing out the glaringly obvious flaws in these disastrously conceived plans, then it was the successive scathing reports from other quarters which have vindicated all of our predictions that the part-privatisation of probation was never going to fulfil its brief.

It all came to a head in June when the justice select committee’s eight-month inquiry concluded with chair Conservative MP Bob Neill branding the justice reforms “a mess” which left him unconvinced it could ever deliver and demanding an immediate government review.

This most damning parliamentary review followed a pile of massively critical thematic reports from HM Inspectorate of Probation, prompting Chief Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey to conclude that “this model cannot work.”

Surely there was no way the government could seriously continue to defend Grayling’s failing master plan after it had been torn to shreds so publicly over the past few years, including by prominent members of its own party.

When Napo got wind of the fact that the Ministry of Justice would be making a major announcement about probation reform in July, it certainly raised a few eyebrows.

Could it be that our prayers had finally been answered and this government would be kicking the privateers out of probation and reunifying the service? No such luck.

Instead the government decided to double down on its plans by ending the current 21 community rehabilitation companies contracts two years early just so it could carve them up into larger pieces, because what better way to reward failing companies unable to meet their obligations, which have put public safety and the future prospects of offenders at risk, than to give them an even bigger bite of the cherry?

As a glaring example of reckless self-aggrandisement and stone-faced denial of the evidence it takes some beating.

While the plight of Britain’s prisons regularly captures the imagination of the media and the public, Napo has worked hard on the difficult task of convincing an increasing number of cross-party politicians and the wider public that the current situation in probation is just as pressing and that the failures of TR are simply stacking up problems for the future.

Prisoners serving sentences in these chaotic prisons where drug use, suicide rates and violence are at an all-time high will eventually be released into our communities and have to be managed within a part-public and part-private probation service.

A service that has seen the decimation of the staffing base — especially in community rehabilitation companies — unsafe workloads, a further chaotic privatisation of the night supervision of high-risk offenders, all of which has resulted in a massive loss of morale among the workforce.

The issue of the broken probation service and its ability to properly supervise clients from all of the risk categories is something that affects us all.

This is why Napo is proposing motion 67 at the TUC calling on wider support for our campaign from colleagues across the trade union movement. We need everyone to understand that TR is not just an issue that affects how much our members are paid, their workload or levels of training and qualifications.

It has an impact on community safety with the worst consequences leaving many bereaved and grieving families understandably seeking answers from the authorities.  

Unless high-quality standards of supervision and rehabilitation can be restored to somewhere like the standards that existed prior to privatisation, then there is little hope for generations of people who have served time in prison to acquire what is necessary to be productive members of society.

If the government continues with its destructive policies, it will not be long until we see an extension of the prisons crisis spilling on to our streets, with the people who are doing their very best to paper over the cracks becoming burnt out and unable to cope.

The counter-revolution that Napo is proposing is essentially simple. Step one is for this government to understand that it has got it wrong and to open up a full public debate — rather than its current sham consultation — about the future provision of services.

Napo believes that there is now an overwhelming consensus that probation must be restored back into public ownership with full accountability before Parliament, local communities and the wider tax-paying public. There is ample scope for building a new community-based justice agency free from the clammy tentacles of a dysfunctional HMPPS.

This must involve all stakeholders with a genuine interest in enabling and driving improvements to prison and probation reform. While it is acknowledged that a Labour government has pledged to deliver on this project, we need to start laying the foundations now.

A new desistance-driven rehabilitation regime that will allow the experts to do their job with the tools they need, one that involves third-sector providers committed to making a real difference. In short, a probation service that is free from the insidious neoliberal agenda implemented by then justice secretary failing Grayling that put profit first and the interests of our communities a distant second.

Ian Lawrence is general secretary of Napo.

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