Government should overhaul how criminals with drug-related addictions are brought back into the community

Probation service renationalised after privatisation ‘benefits’ fail to materialise

Professor Robert Jupe from Kent Business School comments on the decision by the government to renationalise the probation service.

‘The Justice Secretary, David Gauke, has decided to bring the supervision of all offenders in the community under the National Probation Service (NPS) by spring 2021. This reverses a controversial policy introduced by Chris Grayling as Justice Secretary in 2014, when, despite many warnings, probation services for low and medium risk offenders were transferred to 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) owned by eight, mainly private sector, suppliers working under contracts to 2021-22. This was one of many examples of the privatisation of public sector services through outsourcing to the private sector.

‘The outsourcing of public services to private sector companies is intended to provide several benefits. It is meant to transfer risk to the private sector, which can arguably both operate more efficiently than the public sector and encourage innovation. Overall, outsourcing is meant to reduce costs and provide better value for money for taxpayers. Supporters argue that there are successful examples of outsourcing, such as back-office functions including IT and finance services provided for the local and central government.  

‘However, the outsourcing of probation services proved to be very problematic. The CRCs were intended to provide better value for money, to innovate and develop new ways of rehabilitating offenders. The reality, however, proved to be very different as demonstrated in several very critical reports, the most recent by the chief inspector of probation, Glenys Stacey, in March 2019. The reality, as the chief inspector wrote, was that probation supervision provided under contract is “sub-standard” and “much of it is demonstrably poor”. The key problem with the partial privatisation is that probation “is a complex social service, with professional judgement at its heart” and so it is “well-nigh impossible to reduce probation services to a set of contractual requirements”.

‘Even though offender supervision is to be renationalised, there is still a government belief that the private sector should still be partly involved. David Gauke expects the private sector to be allocated £280 million worth of contracts for rehabilitation work. There is still a strong belief in privatisation and outsourcing within government, even though there are continuing problems in other areas such as rail. The problems experienced with the partial privatisation of the probation service and rail franchising indicate the need for a fundamental reassessment of the principle and risks of outsourcing and privatisation. This needs to be part of an honest debate about the benefits of publicly provided services, and the level of taxation needed to support them.’

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