Impact of probation privatisation progamme ‘negligible’, say inspectors

Photograph: Andrew Aitchison/ Prison Image (Wandsworth prison)

The part-privatisation of the probation system has realised none of its original objectives, a new joint-report by government inspectorate groups concluded. It argued that if the services were removed tomorrow, ‘the impact on the resettlement of prisoners would be negligible’.

Transforming Rehabilitation, the part-privatisation of the probation service introduced in 2015, created 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) as part of its Through the Gate strategy. Their aim was to bridge the gap between prison and the community, encourage innovation and creativity, and therefore result in the successful resettlement of more released prisoners.

Yet the joint-inspectorate report, written by Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, and Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, reported that CRCs predominant focus on meeting basic contractual targets has consistently come at the expense of responding to the specific needs of prisoners. It argued that CRC contracts do not clearly specify expectations, while the system did not effectively incentivise good work.

CRCs are responsible for preparing and resettling prisoners by supporting them in their attempts to find housing, manage their money, and secure education, training or employment following their release. Although these services only existed in a fragmented fashion prior to Through the Gate’s introduction, the report’s authors argued that ‘the gap between aspiration and reality is so great, that we wonder whether there is any prospect that these services will deliver the desired impact on rates of reoffending’.

The report, based on visits to nine resettlement prisons and the examination of 98 cases, focused on the fortunes of prisoners serving longer sentences and followed a similarly damning examination of outcomes for those on shorter-term sentences published in October last year.

It found that many prisoners were released without a home or bank account and that most face many weeks without pay. Through the Gate services found homes for just two of the 98 prisoners traced. One in seven were released without any knowledge of where they could sleep that night, with one man handed a tent and sleeping bag upon release.

Not a single prisoner was found education or training opportunities as a direct result of Through the Gate services. Those who quickly gained jobs after release had either sourced them themselves or already begun work in an open prison. The report also identified several cases where prisoners suffering from mental illness and addiction did not receive linked up treatment between their time in custody and then in the community.

The strategy has also had disappointing impacts on reoffending. Of the 98 prisoners examined, 10{3234d8c1bc8391a7e63ebaf7e32c90a4a5b2a92b92485c9509211683c01cefb1} were charged with new offences and sent back to prison within 12 weeks of release, with a further 11{3234d8c1bc8391a7e63ebaf7e32c90a4a5b2a92b92485c9509211683c01cefb1} returned for breaking the terms of their licence.

Richard Burgon, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, condemned the ‘complete failure of the Tories’ reckless part-privatisation of probation’ which was putting public safety at risk.

The report acknowledged that CRCs cannot alone be held responsible for successful resettlement. It highlights how services are not successfully integrated into prisons, with a lack of adequate screening for new inmates an example of how a struggling service can contribute to the ineffectiveness of CRCs.

To rectify these challenges, the two inspectorate bodies propose reviewed and redeveloped contractual arrangements, significant IT improvements, and revisions to performance incentives for prisons, CRCs and the National Probation Service.

Author: Piers Barber

Piers is presently working for a charity which promotes children’s rights. He was online editor at Not Shut Up, a magazine celebrating prisoner creativity

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