Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Launch of the Unified Probation Service

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One experiment in use of the private sector to deliver important public services came to an end on 28 June 2021 with the Government’s announcement of its Unified Probation Service.

This undoes a reform introduced less than a decade ago by the then Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, who decided that while a public sector probation service would be retained for looking after the most serious offenders, private and charitable organisations would be responsible for looking after other offenders.

The specific aims of the Grayling reforms were to reduce the amount of re-offending and promote rehabilitation of offenders. These aims were sensible. Most would argue in favour of them.

What was heavily criticised from the outset by many with an interest in the criminal justice system was that the policy would be delivered primarily by private organisations opearting under contracts with Government. In the event, the critics were proved right. Operation of the contracts did not work in practice. It neither cut costs nor reduced reoffending.

The Government announced some time ago that contracts with private providers would be ended early. The latest announcement marks the completion of the process. The new service will continue to engage with some third sector/charitable organisations. But the new service in effect re-creates the National Probation Service which existed before the Grayling changes were made.

Getting probation right is always a challenge for Government. Some who think that the principal role of the criminal justice system is to punish may regard probation as soft option. The reality, however, is that it is clearly in the public interest that serious efforts are made to turn around the lives of offenders so that they can play a full part in society. Probation officers are on the front line in the delivery of these objectives. It is right that they should be seen as delivering a key public service.

I commented on the original Grayling proposals in this blog on 13 August 2013.

Details of the Government’s latest announcement are at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/bigger-better-probation-service-to-cut-crime

Written by lwtmp

June 28, 2021 at 10:44 am

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