At this moment there are 250,000 people in this country on probation. That’s about the size of Rotherham. These are offenders living amongst us who need to be properly managed.
This used to be the job of the probation service. Then the government decided to break the service in two, giving the task of overseeing offenders who committed more serious crimes to the National Probation Service, but putting the supervision of the rest out to a series of private contractors called Community Rehabilitation Companies – CRCs.
Almost nobody thought this was a good idea – except the minister at the time, Chris Grayling. Police and Crime Commissioners warned that it was full of risks.
What it did was to break up an integrated service, forcing judgements to be made about the seriousness of a crime and therefore the potential threat a particular individual might pose to the community – now and in future.
Experience has shown what probation officers always knew: that some of the low level offenders could turn into more dangerous criminals – but the level of supervision remained the same. Some have gone on to commit serious crimes, including rape and murder.
Most experienced probation officers wanted to stay in the National Probation Service rather than join a CRC. Some left probation altogether. All of which weakened the service.
The CRCs were faced with the almost impossible task of recruiting and training big numbers of new staff in a very short period of time.
To make matters worse, the government also decided to pay the CRCs on a payment-by-results basis. If they didn’t meet targets designed to get re-offending rates down they faced financial penalties which ate away their profits.
You don’t have to be a genius to realise that to expect a new service to get up and running from scratch and meet targets was heading for trouble.
The Chief Inspector of Probation has called this system ‘irredeemably flawed’. The government is having to re-think.
What we need is what we used to have: one Probation Service that can make professional judgements about offenders, helping to rehabilitate those who want to turn their lives round, but closely managing those who can’t or won’t.
There is no criticism of the staff of the CRCs or the leadership. They have worked flat out to try to make the current model work.
It never will; but if it stays as it is, we should all be very concerned.