Established 1 June 2014, the National Probation Service is a governmental body which oversees high-risk criminal offenders as they are reintegrated within the community. It is interesting to note that this organisation also worked in conjunction with no less than 21 other agencies which supervised low- to medium risk offenders. These were otherwise known as community rehabilitation companies (CRCs). Having said this, it is a good idea to look at some of the major responsibilities of the National Probation Service before examining the perceived effects of the privatisation upon certain segments.
The Primary Areas Addressed by the National Probation Service
There are five key areas which the National Probation Service is responsible for. These include:
- The creation of pre-sentence judiciary reports. These are intended to recommend the appropriate incarceration sentence for a specific offender.
- The oversight of appropriated residences for those offenders who are required to remain at such locations as part of their overall sentence.
- Preparing prison inmates for their eventual release back into the community (while remaining under the supervision of the National Probation Service).
- Aiding recently released inmates to meet any and all court-mandated requirements.
- Liaising with victims of sexual assaults or violent encounters in circumstances when the offender is located within a mental health facility or has been incarcerated for a period longer than one year.
Thus, it is apparent that the scope of operations is quite large. The ultimate goal of the National Probation Service is to protect the public against high-risk offenders by providing thorough rehabilitation services as well as by addressing the causes of the initial offence(s).
How Does the National Probation Service Address These Issues?
It should be noted that without a thorough amount of coordination and a robust framework, such goals would be nearly impossible to achieve. The National Probation Service had therefore segmented its areas of jurisdiction into specific areas of the United Kingdom in conjunction with the CRC. These included:
- Southern and eastern locations (including Kent, Essex and Bedfordshire).
- South western and central locations (such as Thames Valley, Dorset and Gloucestershire).
- The north west (Cumbria, Lancashire and Greater Manchester).
- The north east (Northumbria, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire).
- The Midlands.
The National Probation Service also worked in conjunction with local, regional and governmental agencies in order to provide an "overlapping" sense of reliability when dealing with high-risk offenders. Some of these included (but were certainly not limited to) The Ministry of Justice, the National Offender Management Service and local police forces. This resulted in the ability to work with approximately 30,000 offenders on an annual basis.
One of the most notable changes in the ways that the NPS now operates is due largely in part to the a privatisation process that recently came into effect. It is important to note a few facts here. First, we should recall that the National Probation Service is responsible for dealing with the most dangerous and high-risk offenders. These are thought to represent approximately 30 per cent of the total criminal population as a whole. The remaining 70 per cent had been supervised by the aforementioned community rehabilitation companies.
In February 2015, the CRC section was outsourced to different private organisations. Some of these were even large multinational companies. The entire shift has become known as the "Transforming Rehabilitation" programme. Two companies in particular now represent more than half of the English probation services. These are Interserve and Sodexo. Other corporations such as the Seetec Business Technology Centre are in charge of locations including Sussex, Surrey and Kent (former jurisdictions of community rehabilitation companies).
Some government officials such as justice secretary Chris Grayling observe that the outsourcing of probationary services is meant to bring more innovative rehabilitation techniques to offenders and thus lower incidences of recidivism. He was further quoted as saying "I am really pleased that we will be deploying the skills of some of Britain’s best rehabilitation charities to help these offenders turn their lives around” (1).
However, it needs to be highlighted that not everyone is happy with the changes that have been brought forth. One example can be seen with the sentiment of Labour shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan. He claims that there has been "has been no testing or piloting to see if this will work and won’t put the public’s safety at risk." Furthermore, others observe that some of the private companies have poor or no track records in reference when dealing with the criminal justice system (1). The fact that a handful of major companies have been awarded the bulk of the contracts has led some to question whether or not the bidding process itself was transparent.
The probation officers likewise feel betrayed to an extent. This is according to an online survey of 1,300 workers that was carried out immediately before the privatisation took place (2). Legal aid cuts have upset probation officers, solicitors and barristers
alike. Many staff were particularly concerned with the fact that there will be profit motives introduced with rehabilitation techniques. Some feel that these recent circumstances have led to the death of the public "probation ideal". In other words, processes themselves may become skewed. In turn, this could lead to a greater number of repeat offences and an increased risk to the public. While they agree that there is always room for improvement with any system, the majority believe that privatising such a service is the wrong way forward.
It is difficult to say what effects this trend will have on the probation service throughout England. Many wonder if such actions are indicative of a wider assault on the public service sector by private interests. As the population of England and Wales continues to grow, it will be interesting to see if the predictions of the proponents of this action will prove to be true or the officers themselves are correct in their opinions.
References: The Guardian (1)
The Guardian (2)