Crispin Blunt on the privatisation of the probation service: a change too soon?Posted: April 23, 2015
Exclusive interview with the former prisons minister.
Former prison minister Crispin Blunt has said that probation reforms could potentially reduce reoffending and help addicts, but that the moves are too hasty and more pilot schemes are needed.
The Transforming Rehabilitation Act came into force in February this year and has caused quite a stir. The act privatised approximately 70 per cent of the probation service leaving only high risk offenders under the remit of the public sector. Chris Grayling has described the act as “a great step forwards”. However not everyone is quite so confident.
The Social Market Foundation, a think tank, published a paper in 2013 warning that the act would create “perverse incentives such that providers risk making losses if they seek to cut reoffending”. Concerns have also been raised that the reforms have been rushed through too fast and a system of payment by results will encourage companies to focus on easier cases, leaving the more complex offenders to suffer.
Interview with Crispin Blunt, former prisons minister
Mr Blunt recognises that a policy that incentivises results has the potential to be effective. “It plainly could be hugely empowering for probation offices if they are being paid not only to supervise a criminal sentence, but if they were also incentivised to make people better and stop them reoffending.”
“It plainly could be hugely empowering”
He is optimistic that the Act could mean better treatment for recovering drug addicts. “A lot of the minor theft offences occur because an addict leaves prison without support and is trying to feed their habit. This would be the sort of thing that would fall to the community rehabilitation centres (CRCs) to help with.”
He says the payment by result model should improve through-the-gate services and reduce reoffending. “The CRCs will have an interest in identifying addicts within prison and making sure that they begin their process of recovery and that it is sustained outside. And if they can sustain that then they should reduce the reoffending rate because if you remove the addiction often you remove the need to offend”.
“There’s no magic bullet with all of this”
However Mr Blunt and others have criticised the reforms as too hasty. “There’s no magic bullet with all of this, I am anxious that we’re moving too fast. I would have piloted two areas, but Chris Grayling is so convinced it is such a good thing that it should be done across the whole service and that we shouldn’t lose any time getting on with it.
“My anxiety would be that when mistakes are made, which they will be, that they will be played out across the whole country and that may discredit the whole process throwing it into reverse”.
“I am anxious that we’re moving too fast.”
When it comes to the CRCs picking off the easier cases and capitalising on ‘low hanging fruit,’ Mr Blunt is less concerned. “I am not too bothered about ‘collecting fruit’, as long as the overall effect is to drop the reoffending rate. If people are unbelievably difficult to address, and won’t cooperate, why waste resources on them? My concern is that the service hasn’t been piloted, we don’t yet know if it will drop the reoffending rate.”
For a full breakdown of the probation service in the run up to the Transforming Rehabilitation Act, check out our interactive timeline here. Keep an eye out, we’ve got more in store on the new probation service!