UNISON brands plans to privatise probation service as ‘dangerously misguided’

Proposals to make drastic changes to the Probation Service through wholesale outsourcing of the rehabilitation of offenders have been branded ‘dangerously misguided’ by UNISON, the UK’s largest union.

The union said the plans, which will place the running of big regional contracts into the hands of multi-national private sector companies, would destroy the localism and accountability that is key to the success of probation services.

Commenting on the plans, UNISON national officer for probation staff Ben Priestley said:

“These plans will dismantle the probation service – 105 years in the making – in one fell swoop, and in the pursuit of so-called efficiency, will dissolve all that is good and valuable about the service.

“We support the ambition of the Justice Minister to revolutionise rehabilitation, but he is dangerously misguided in his approach. Probation is a local service. It gains its strength from its links with local authorities, police forces and community and voluntary sector organisations that operate at a neighbourhood level.

“The probation service keeps people and communities safe, and these proposals risk fragmenting Probation and passing over its vital work to an unaccountable and poor performing private sector, interested only in profits.

“The Ministry of Justice has one of the worst records in Government of botched private sector procurement and there is no evidence that this will improve in the future. What’s more, the private sector is only interested in large, regional contracts which would sever the link of Probation to the communities it currently serves.”

UNISON has been working on an alternative: working with the Local Government Information Unit, it is developing the concept of ‘Primary Justice’ where public-public partnerships between Probation Trusts, Local Authorities and Police Forces take up the strain of Chris Grayling’s rehabilitation revolution while protecting a local probation service and enhancing accountability to the local population.

The ‘Primary Justice’ model will provide the basis of the union’s response to the forthcoming consultation on the Justice Minister’s proposals.

The report can be found here: http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/5957.pdf