Potential problems with privatisation
Emma Davies and Jessica Wheway from Hine Solicitors look at the privatisation of the Probation Service, what the changes will be and potential problems that may be encountered by prisoners
The current political climate has led to many changes within the Criminal Justice System and the Probation Service has not been ignored. This has in turn led to some difficulties with the way in which the Probation Service are able to provide their services.
These difficulties will of course impact on inmates. Some inmates may have experienced several changes of Offender Manager in quick succession. They may have not had significant contact with the Probation Service for some time, despite attempts to contact them. These are all possible problems that inmates may be experiencing during this period of change within the Probation Service. Inmates should be aware of these issues as the privatisation of the Probation Service should not be at the expense of those who need it most.
What is going to change?
The Government plans to create a new National Probation Service which will:
• Undertake all court reports and parole reports;
• Undertake all initial assessments to determine which provider will manage a case;
• Manage offenders who are MAPPA registered, pose a high risk of serious harm, or it is in the public interest to do so;
• Carry out victim liaison work;
• Manage Approved Premises;
• Decide on action in relation to all potential breaches beyond first warning and advise the courts or Secretary of State on sanctions or recall to custody;
• Consult on changes in risk of harm.
All other probation business will be competed for in the open market. This work will be divided into 21 Contract Package Areas. Currently the Probation Service is split into 35 regional trusts, all of which are run by the public sector. The Ministry of Justice plans to privatise 70% of the regional trusts into 21 Rehabilitation Companies, who will be responsible for dealing with low and medium risk offenders.
These 21 private Rehabilitation Companies will be responsible for:
• Managing all medium and low risk of harm offenders excluding MAPPA;
• Delivering programmes, excluding Sex Offender Treatment Programmes;
• ‘Through the gate’ services for prisoners;
• Integrated Offender Management;
• Restorative Justice;
• Community Payback.
The 21 contracts will be awarded from October 2014. However, from 1 June 2014 all current probation staff will be transferred to either the National Probation Service (NPS) or a ‘holding’ Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). The 21 new providers will have contractual obligations to work in partnership with the National Probation Service in managing offender’s risk of serious harm.
It is the Government’s hope that these changes will lower reoffending rates. The private companies who are successful in negotiating a contract will be offered financial incentives if they achieve a reduction in offending rates.
It is also proposed that a new statutory rehabilitation requirement will be extended to all offenders sentenced to less than 12 months in custody. This is due to take effect in 2015.
A ‘through the prison gate’ resettlement service will also be provided, so that most offenders are given continuous support by one provider from custody into the community. Most prisoners should therefore be held in a local prison for at least three months before their release to assist with resettlement.
How are these changes going to affect me?
It is quite clear that these changes will be seen and felt by inmates. The Probation Service have actively shown their concerns with the proposed changes and which in turn suggests that they do not believe that they are able to offer best service as a result of the new arrangements. The General Secretary of the Probation Service union Napo Ian Lawrence has commented that: “These plans are ill thought-through, are proceeding to an impossible timetable and they are dangerous. They will increase costs and will lead to communication breakdown between probation workers.”
Inmates who are approaching a Parole review, subject to recall or have just been released on licence need to be aware of the new arrangements that are coming in to force. If you are an indeterminate sentenced prisoner, it will be important for you to have a good working relationship with your Offender Manager in order to assist in your progression through the prison system. It is unlikely that you will be able to secure release unless the Probation Service assess that your risk can be managed in the community.
If you have been recalled to custody, the Parole Board will want to ensure that your risk is manageable in the community. This will therefore require a robust risk management plan from the Probation Service and assurances that your relationship with your Offender Manager is such that they have no concerns regarding your compliance with licence conditions.
Having been released into the community on licence, either through the determinate sentence or by the Parole Board, you will need to work closely with your Offender Manager and the Probation service. This may involve attending regular appointments, undertaking 1:1 work and notifying Probation in the event that the conditions of your licence require.
In all these circumstances, if there is suddenly a change in the running of the Probation Service or your Offender Manager, the onus will be on you to build a relationship with those who are supervising you.
What can I do?
As many prisoners will be aware, it is near impossible to change your Offender Manager simply because you do not get on with them. It is therefore understandable that any change in Offender Manager, particularly if you get on well with them, will cause anxieties for inmates.
In circumstances such as this, inmates will be virtually helpless and will have to adapt quickly to any change in order to reduce the impact on their progression. It is during these times that having the support of your solicitor to guide you through the processes of recall or parole are so important. The views of a probation officer can often be subjective and if you end up with a new probation officer, whether during your Parole or Recall process or not, it is important to attempt to contact them as soon as possible to show your commitment in wanting to work with them. Usually this can be done via letter but in some cases a telephone or video link conference can also be arranged.
If you are already undergoing a Parole or Recall review and have the benefit of legal representation, your concerns may also be able to be addressed via your solicitor who can often speak with the Probation Service on your behalf to facilitate any issues that you may have.
What needs to be made clear is that the Parole Board should not prejudice inmates who are affected by the changes in the Probation Service, such as those who may have recently acquired a new Offender Manager who has not had the opportunity to learn their case or build a relationship with them prior to the Parole or Recall process commencing. A solicitor can ensure that this is taken into account and that any issues which are out of your control are managed within the context of written or oral representations.
Whilst the Probation Service have been seen to take action by demonstrating their concerns regarding the proposed changes, inmates have undoubtedly been somewhat left in the dark. If you are undergoing a Parole or Recall process at present it is important that you attempt to maintain consistent contact with your allocated Offender Manager. You must however, balance this consistency with the fact that you are not the only offender that probation officer will be allocated. Therefore if you do not receive a response immediately from your Offender Manager you need to appreciate that often they are in the process of getting back to you.
In the event that your Offender Manager is totally silent in getting back to you, inmates should consider addressing matters with their prison Offender Supervisor who may be able to assist you in addressing your concerns or facilitate contact. In the event that you have a solicitor representing you it is wise to speak to them as well.
This does not just apply to those who are subject to the Parole and Recall processes, but also those who are undergoing sentence planning meetings and are working through their sentence. These individuals may be the ones most affected by the changes as they may feel that they are being left in the dark about the changes that are taking place as they will not necessarily come into contact with the Probation Service until such time as their Parole (if applicable) or release are being dealt with. What is important is that you keep yourself informed and to do so speak to the Offender Management Unit and your Offender Supervisor within your holding establishment. Although it may not always feel like it there are people there to help you, you just need to speak out.