What does the privatisation of the probation service actually mean?

Following an obscure publication from the Ministry of Justice, the "prior information notice" has revealed some unexpected details concerning Grayling's radical reform agenda.

Previous estimates no longer seem valid as the recently published figures highlight the unexpected scale and pace of the planned privatisation of the probation service. The formal bidding of "payment by results" schemes are now set to start in August 2013.

Furthermore, the divide between the private/voluntary sector and the public probation service has also widened. Estimates formerly stated how 70% of the rehabilitation services would be privately/voluntarily run leaving 30% to the public, however following the addition of further caseloads to cover 50,000 extra short-sentenced prisoners, this balance has now shifted.

The MoJ has stated that this figure has risen to 88%, thus leaving a mere 12% of high risk offenders in the hands of the public probation service. The rump of the public protection service will be left managing 31,000 offenders deemed "high risk" - typically those offenders involved in sex or violent cases. The 236,000 low and medium-risk offenders will be in the hands of the private and voluntary sector, such as private security firms and charities.

Effectively, responsibilities for the likes of assessing the risk posed by each offender, providing courts and parole board with pre-sentence reports and making final decision on whether the offender must return to prison will be under the public probation service control.

Nonetheless, an overwhelming proportion of probation work will be transferred to the private/voluntary providers, hence why Grayling has previously prophesised the likelihood of a large majority of probation staff switching to the new providers.

One way for the 35 soon-to-be-dissolved public probation trusts to stay active is by converting into "mutuals" and then bidding for contracts in partnership with private companies and voluntary organisations. There is however no guarantee of bidding success.

It's estimated the new rehabilitation and supervision contracts will go for the likes of £5bn to £20bn over the next 10 years.

Disregarding Ken Clarke's two pilot tests in Peterborough and Doncaster, Grayling has decided to turbocharge the scale and pace of his ‘revolution'. Ignoring the valid assertions that this reform is not tried and tested Grayling wants the radical probation service privatisation in place by the next general election - this is only two years' away.


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