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BASW comments on announcement that probation services to return to public control

Research and experience on the ground showed spectacular failures.

BASW welcomes the announcement from the Westminster government today that the part-privatised probation service in England and Wales would be fully ‘renationalised’ after research and experience on the ground showed spectacular failures. 

In 2014, then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, against much advice from within and outside probation, in haste pushed through the privatisation of unpaid work and behaviour programmes through the Transforming Rehabilitation initiative.

The aim was to reduce costs and increase outcomes through financial incentives and penalties on a US model. It was a spectacular failure with contracted private companies running up huge losses needing government bail outs.  Reoffending rates went up 32%. The Public Accounts Committee said the reforms left services “underfunded, fragile, and lacking the confidence of the courts”.

The outsourced workforce was found to be poorly trained and skilled for the difficult tasks of supervising offenders in a range of programmes, underestimating ongoing risks of reoffending and not achieving rehabilitation goals.

The separation of the probation officer role from social work which came in the 1990s remains something BASW seeks to reverse. Probation is still underpinned by social work qualifications, knowledge, skills and values in Northern Ireland and Scotland.  While the recent announcement is welcome, we urge the government to talk with BASW and professional leaders in social work to explore again what social work offers.

We will seek to discuss with National Association of Probation Officers and the government the value of re-establishing social work as part of probation service in England and Wales and explore how social workers skills can be effective and humane in supporting change.