Jamie Buchan Profile picture
Jul 27, 2018 27 tweets 9 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
So the part-privatisation of #probation as originally conceived is over. @benmatthewsed made the foolhardy mistake of asking for my thoughts so going to post a thread...
1/ This was a terrible idea and seemingly every academic and practitioner in probation thought so. The marketisation was meant to use a "Payment by Results" system similar to another of Grayling's Greatest Hits, The Work Programme...
2/ CRC owners would be paid under on the basis of reductions in reconviction (which ≠ reoffending, but anyway...). They started 2 pilots for this 'payment by results' approach (notably at Doncaster prison) but they had poor results and weren't really finished before TR began
3/ @russwebt has done great work on all this stuff, see russellwebster.com/disappointing-…
Splitting the probationer population by risk was essentially a gift to the private sector, leaving the expensive and unprofitable high-risk group to the public sector.
4/ Expensive and unprofitable because they require the most careful & coordinated supervision and intensive help to desist from crime. If these probationers 'fall through the cracks' in the system it is 1) a potential public safety issue and 2) a publicity disaster
5/ So splitting the probationer population by risk of further offending - and keeping the high risk group in the public sector - sort of makes sense, but fails to take into account the fact that people change between risk levels, e.g. if they lose their job/tenancy
6/ Charities (often described as having unique expertise and availability) were meant to be 'harnessed' in the TR bid process. However as charities aren't huge corporations they tended not to bid for probation on their own.
7/ Instead they bid in consortia with private sector companies but tended to find themselves sidelined - used as 'bid candy' to make the bid look good but left with little power or influence. This also happened with the DWP's Work Programme
8/ So the day comes and the consistently extremely high-performing probation service of England and Wales is closed and replaced with the public sector National Probation Service (NPS) and the 21 local Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs)
9/ They couldn't sack all the probation officers - this is a job that requires extensive training. So they were 'sifted' - reallocated to the CRCs or to NPS. In some areas they had little choice. This in itself was stressful. (TW, next tweet will mention suicide)
10/ Notably, a probation officer in Kent took her own life because of the stress of being assigned to supervise high-risk offenders in NPS. In her note she accused Grayling of 'mudering the probation service' - see independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/…
11/ As it became clear there would be more 'high-risk' offenders than expected (including because of increasing conviction rates for sex crimes), caseloads for NPS officers rose to extreme levels in some areas.
12/ Further, commercial rules mandated a sort of "air gap" between the CRC and NPS elements, meaning that in some places probation workers in one part weren't allowed to discuss cases with colleagues/friends in the other part, even when they shared the same physical office.
13/ Of course it wouldn't be a British privatisation initiative without an IT disaster: TR entailed replacing three different IT systems with a single integrated offender management system called nDelius, which has a tendency to lose files or fail to save data.
14/ (Much of what I have learned about the effects 'on the ground' I have learned from @jimbrownblog. Also - although media coverage has been less than it should be, @MLeftly @iandunt and @alantravis40 have done excellent work on this)
15/ I'm glad to see they're reviewing it but at the moment the plan seems to be to bail out the private sector providers (socialism for the rich!) and then reduce the number of regions along which it'll be organised - not the issue of whether outsourcing probation was a good idea
16/ The lie of recent outsourcing is it's about market freedom & competition, when it's a few huge companies on which govt is too dependent to let them fail, as some of them (in a 'free' market) would/should. @zoesqwilliams calls this the Shadow State. theguardian.com/commentisfree/…
17/ So the companies that ran the CRCs are getting bailed out, naturally - waiving the penalties they owed for failing to achieve their targets.
18/ When they realised running CRCs was unlikely to be profitable, especially given unrealistic target reductions in reconviction (which, obviously, isn't affected just by probation performance - unemployment, policing - even weather!) they provided minimal service at min cost
19/ All the more of a problem since ANOTHER part of TR required an extension of post-release supervision ('parole' is US term) from applying only to longer-sentenced prisoners to ALL prisoners.
20/ So 10000s of people 'supervised' by brief phone calls or by 'automated kiosk reporting'. Watching this bit of 'Elysium', as I researched this, really heightened my sense that the UK is becoming a Tesco Meal Deal version of a science fiction dystopia
21/ I would add a final thought (promise!): There is no danger of something like TR happening in Scotland yet. But our community justice services are also under pressure to make savings and efficiencies in the context of #austerity and to invest in prevention, not reaction
22/ One theme in my PhD research (era.lib.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/23…), discussed in numerous interviews, was the difficulty of applying quantifying, measuring managerial logic to something as complex & emotional as probation, social work and other 'caring' services
23/ The cost of a community sentence might be affected by e.g. transport links in the area (because of effect on staff time) or by the cost of building rent in that area. Preventing reoffending and saving £ = good, but in practice v hard to quantify.
24/ If (e.g.) an assault is prevented, savings could accrue to NHS, police, council, the (non-) victim and their family, the courts, etc. etc. This reflects crime being a complex social phenomenon. Imposing market logic, as TR did in England and Wales, is ignoring this fact.
25/ I'm about done but for further reading would recommend the journalists tagged above, this great @lrb blog - lrb.co.uk/blog/2018/02/0… & other academics: Gwen Robinson, @BurkeLol , Matthew Millings, @jakephillips, @NicolaCarr , @fergus_mcneill
26/ This OPEN ACCESS article by Robinson, Burke & Millings is particularly good! - academic.oup.com/bjc/article/56…

OK. I meant to stop a while ago so... enjoy the weekend I guess?

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