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Sun Feb 24, 2013, 04:32 AM

The Dismantling of Probation: Who Will Profit?

By Michael Teague

Source: New Left Project

Saturday, February 23, 2013

After 105 years of world-class rehabilitative intervention, the probation service in England and Wales is about to be effectively dismantled. This essential component of our civic society is about to be sacrificed on the altar of shareholder profit.

What is the context of the planned changes? In England and Wales, the risk of becoming a victim of crime is now lower than at any point since the mid-1990s. Probation’s rehabilitative work has played a key role in this reduced risk. The service also provides substantial fiscal value to taxpayers. Out of the whole National Offender Management Service annual budget of £3.7 billion in 2011-12 (which includes the cost of imprisonment), slightly less than one fifth was spent on probation. It cost £37,648 to accommodate a single prisoner in 2011-12,[1] a sum which would fund around nine community orders. In terms of staff numbers, the probation service is relatively small. With just 16,710 employees, it is around one third of the size of the prison service, and a ninth of the size of the police. Its remarkably small workforce notwithstanding, probation was in September 2012 responsible for supervising some 227,339 people, around three times the size of the current prison population of 83,999 inmates in England and Wales, which serves to underline the scale of probation’s accomplishment on relatively limited resources. The agency has not just achieved its targets, it was even awarded the British Quality Foundation’s Gold Medal for Excellence – the first time a public sector organisation has won this prestigious award. In short, probation already provides real value.

Nevertheless, the de facto privatisation of probation has been made a key component of the Coalition government’s ‘rehabilitation revolution’, which the Ministry of Justice defines as the establishment of ‘an offender management system that harnesses the innovation of the private and voluntary sectors, including options for using payment by results, to cut reoffending’.[2] Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, fresh from implementing the Work Programme as employment minister, is making a concerted push for payment by results in probation. Efforts have been made to sugar the privatisation pill by emphasising the potential of charities and voluntary groups to perform rehabilitative work currently undertaken by probation. The Ministry of Justice’s 2013 consultation document, ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’,[3] outlined plans to allow private companies and charities to manage a range of services, including community supervision.

Who will profit?

Probation may have a substantial history of embracing the rehabilitative ideal, but private companies focused on shareholder profit are not oblivious to the fact that, in England and Wales, it represents an industry worth some £820 million a year (the total budget allocated to the existing 35 probation trusts each year). The potentially lucrative contracts for probation work will be worth a substantial proportion of that total. The financial resources required to back successful bids will inevitably bestow a significant advantage on those bigger private companies with the resources and infrastructure to support their bid. This means that that large multinational companies like Serco, Sodexo and G4S – already enriching shareholders via privatised incarceration – will be ideally positioned to take over the bulk of probation’s core public sector work.

Full Article: http://www.zcommunications.org/the-dismantling-of-probation-who-will-profit-by-michael-teague

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