The probation revolution – does privatisation put financial return above social justice?

By Katie Baker, UK PR Team

Earlier today in the UK, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced that ‘necessary radical measures need to be implemented to tackle the high rate of short-sentenced prisoners reoffending within a year’. This wholesale probation ‘revolution’, as it has been coined, will mean wholesale privatization for the system.home_cover

Outlines for the wholesale outsourcing of the probation service with private companies and voluntary sector originations by 2015 has split industry opinion. Will this be a good or bad thing? Should we be putting financial return above social justice?

Many of our journals publish research that has a real timely impact and reference to future policy making, and in light of today’s news, Probation Journal (and notably last month’s special issue, ‘Opening the criminal justice market’) couldn’t be more topical. Last month’s issue explored the very issues being discussed today, examining the impact of privatisation in depth.

As editor, Lol Burke stated:

“Privatization can be seen as indolent policy making because it aspires to the abdication of state responsibility towards those with least power but greatest need. Financial return and cost savings should not be placed above social justice no matter how persuasive this may seem in times of economic austerity. Ultimately, it is the state through which we express our collective social obligations and pool our risks. That is why it matters who delivers criminal justice.”

He goes onto say:

“The probation service has a long tradition of working alongside other sectors and no one within probation would claim that the organization can, or should, provide all the services required to meet the complex needs of those supervised. The private sector may have a role to play in criminal justice in the provision of specific services but if the ultimate goal is the wholesale privatization of a public good then it is not only morally dubious but ultimately costly in practice as potential savings are inevitably offset by increased administration and bureaucracy.”

Today’s announcements are the most significant steps that have been taken towards addressing policies around managing offenders in the community in the last generation. Yet what will the increasing penetration of public services by the private sector mean for public interest? Are these changes purely ideological and are they ultimately driven by the desire for financial gain?

Read the full issue online for free and follow the journal online at – @ProbationJnl and at @SAGECriminology.

(Additional information can be found on The Guardian and BBC websites.)

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