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Letter to the Daily Telegraph – dismantling the probation service(s) in England and Wales

4, November 2013

Dear Editor,

Your editorial on the 4th November,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/telegraph-view/10424123/On-probation.html

reminds me of the confidently expressed, but wrong speech in the House of Commons debate on 30th October about reorganisation of the probation service(s) by Sir Edward Garnier – not only is it wrong but it is dangerous because so many people believe the likes of Sir Edward Garnier QC MP and editorials in the Daily Telegraph!

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm131030/debtext/131030-0003.htm#13103062002415

Since about the late 1980s Government instructions to probation service(s) on what they should do – coupled with financial controls on doing much else has meant that a routine service has not been offered by (home*) probation workers to most prisoners sentenced to less than 12 months in prison. It is this group who have the highest reoffending rate – whereas due to conscientious work, often with other agencies such as police and local organisations of all sorts, that reoffending has fallen by about 10% across England and Wales over the last ten years, for those people that the government currently statutorily requires the probation service(s) to supervise.

By dismantling this 107 year incrementally grown structure at a stroke – every probation worker is due to have a different employer (Unknown at present) by 1st April 2014) – that the proverbial apple-cart maybe upset, and rather than end up with something cheaper and more effective we will effectively end up with ‘the apples all over the road’ and have to pay people extra to pick them up – so take longer – meanwhile the apples will themselves be damaged and a less good product. Except that we are dealing with people and not apples and the consequences of more damaged people within society is rather worse than the consequences of a damaged cart of apples!

*There are still a few prison based probation officers – whose duties tend for them to have little responsibility for prisoners who will be released who will not be subject to statutory supervision. However on occasions it is possible that such prisoners are given what might be termed ‘welfare’ type assistance by one of those few probation workers seconded to a prison but still employed by a local ‘Probation Trust’. In addition to prisoners who are sentenced to less than 12 months and so not liable to statutory supervision by home probation service workers, are fine defaulters and others committed to custody for not paying certain court ordered financial penalties, including court costs, compensation to victims and council tax. There are also immigration detainees and prisoners in contempt of courts who do not receive statutory probation supervision on release.

Yours faithfully,

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