Transforming Rehabilitation, a Fiscal Motivated Approach to Offender Management

By Calder, Steven D. | British Journal of Community Justice, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Transforming Rehabilitation, a Fiscal Motivated Approach to Offender Management


Calder, Steven D., British Journal of Community Justice


Introduction

The probation service has been at the crossroads many times in its history but currently it is heading for its greatest challenge since its inception. The recommendations contained in 'Transforming Rehabilitation' will change the justice system. The question that has to be asked is whether it will be for the better? Recently thirteen Labour Police and Crime Commissioners have written to Chris Grayling, Secretary of State, to express their concerns about the planned changes and the potential impact for public safety. They stated that Probation Trusts know and understand their local areas and have constructive working relationships with agencies such as the police and private and voluntary sector groups. They were concerned with the fragmentation of services and how risk of reoffending can oscillate over time. The sheer speed of the proposed changes also alarmed them and they accused the Secretary of State of hiding behind the 2007 Offender Management Act (discussed later in the article) rather than seeking Parliamentary approval (see Russellwebster.com for details of responses to Transforming Rehabilitation). NAPO, the probation officers' union has complained that Transforming Rehabilitation conflates areas that probation is responsible for with those for which it is not, for example supervising short-term prisoners on release, and then to lay blame on it for not doing the work very well. One response would be that this is a somewhat disingenuous and cynical, constructing of a straw man for destruction. Undoubtedly, there is distinct merit in working with those sentenced to less than 12 months, this is a view shared by current probation staff and service users alike, as is the proposal to engage ex-service users and mentors to provide an individualised approach to sentence planning. But should this be a rationale for the dismantling of the probation service?

Debbie Ryan of G4S sees the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda as a:

Once in a lifetime opportunity to look at probation with a blank sheet of paper. It is a chance to put service users at the heart of the new service models and if the new providers get it right we will see less people in prison and more money in rehabilitation. (Cited in Webster, 2013a)

We would question the notion of starting with a blank piece of paper when we have substantial experience of the evolution of effective ways of working with offenders, from low to high risk. Should we be jettisoning all this for working on a blank piece of paper, or even the back of an envelope, to start again? The irony is that the National Offender Management Service is training probation services across the world in a model we seek to discard. We have to question how such 'innovation' will be paid for, given that the current plans are influenced by the current government's austerity measures and a significant part of the argument for reform being one of improving value for money. This paper will consider the evidence and the politics for the proposed changes.

The Probation Service in England and Wales has changed remarkably in its hundred year history from a philanthropic, untrained base to what it is today, an organisation perhaps overly target focused (not the fault of the service) but with a workforce that is trained to identify and manage risk (Goodman, 2012). It has withstood previous attempts to deprofessionalise it, notably Michael Howard in 1995 withdrawing the requirement for staff to be trained for the work, which was overturned by New Labour when they were returned to power in 1997. It was new Labour that produced the Offender Management Act 2007 that introduced more competition into the probation service but it did not go as far as the current proposals. Sadiq Khan, Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary, has complained that experienced probation staff have not been treated with respect, with Labour voting against the new Bill which has been described by them as an enormous gamble (Khan, 2013). …

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