Dr Michael Teague comments on the state of the privatised probation service in Derbyshire

3 October 2016

Dr Michael Teague, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology, at the University of Derby’s International Policing & Justice Institute (and former Probation Officer) comments on the state of the privatised probation service in Derbyshire.

The recent report by HM Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) — on the deteriorating standards of Derbyshire’s probation service — reflects the increasing evisceration of our public sector community justice system.

According to the chief inspector of probation, standards of the quality of supervising criminals in Derbyshire has slipped since the government first out-sourced parts of the probation service in 2014. Dame Glenys Stacey said the standard of some services in the county was now "significantly lower" than before.

There is no doubt that the National Probation Service (NPS) in Derbyshire, which is responsible for supervising higher-risk offenders, undertakes excellent work protecting the public and preventing future victims. However, public safety must always be paramount and this HMIP report on the effectiveness of probation work in Derbyshire lays bare some worrying evidence on the management of medium- and low-risk offenders. These offenders are managed by the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), which is wholly owned by the Reducing Reoffending Partnership (RRP).

From 2015, the bulk of the probation work was contracted to external providers. The HMIP report exposes a significant reduction in the quality of the service being provided in comparison to the previous probation service, before it was dissolved. If potentially dangerous or high risk individuals are not being effectively managed, public confidence will be undermined.

For there to be concerns with the quality of the privatised probation service in Derbyshire after just two years the alarm bells should be ringing. If we undermine the quality of intervention, this may lead to higher levels of offending, which may in turn produce more victims. 

There have been reports from frontline probation practitioners about excessive workloads, a lack of suitably experienced staff and poor communication between agencies and service users. Probation needs able staff who can dedicate all of their time to the key task of supervising offenders, and not distracted by managing unnecessary institutional change.

Probation is an essential component of our civic society. There has long been disquiet that the changes to probation were rooted in ideology rather than solid evidence. Critics have voiced concerns about possible service failure following the privatisation of probation. This report on Derbyshire provides evidence that privatisation measures have exerted a significant impact of the quality of service delivery.

The American experience represents a cautionary tale for probation. My research on American probation services provides evidence that privatised intervention does not enhance the rehabilitative process. In many cases it leads to a deterioration in the provision of the service. The worst case scenario for England is that we accelerate, full-tilt, down the American road of privatised intervention, where the notion of rehabilitation has been effectively jettisoned, lest it impedes shareholder profit.

When probation is thriving, communities benefit, offenders are rehabilitated and the creation of future victims is prevented.  The reintegrative ethos underpinning probation reflects its immense social worth.  This report illuminates concerns that may render that service less effective. 

It would now be helpful for the government to ensure that the Derbyshire CRC fully implement the recommendations of the report. Should the CRC not respond promptly and effectively to these concerns, the Ministry of Justice may wish to consider whether it is in the interest of longer-term public safety to return the probation service to public ownership in the longer term.

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