Monday, November 04, 2013

Why I am striking for the future of public protection - Napo Probation Strike, November 5-6 2013

HEY people, I thought I'd explain why I am joining the Napo national strike to save Probation tomorrow, in case you thought it was about pay or pensions...

Basically, the government are planning to sell off 70 per cent of the Probation Service. G4S and Serco will almost certainly win all the 20-odd contracts. I don't want to work for either G4S or Serco, but more importantly, I don't think that that public protection should be put in their hands.

The government says that this will allow more voluntary and charity organisations to get involved with offenders. No bad thing. But why is it considered that G4S and Serco will be better at sub-contracting to the third sector than existing Probation trusts? (who already do some such partnership work, btw).

Maybe you think "well, maybe Probation are doing a rubbish job". But we're not. Each trust was graded between good and excellent last year. And the figures that the government quote about high rates of reoffending among those sentenced to less than 12 months in prison isn't of our doing, as they are currently released without licence.

Minister Jeremy Wright finally admitted the truth on BBC Five Live earlier - it's about money. They don't want to pay Probation to manage these people effectively, so they're giving it to cheaper organisations - along with 70% of our existing work (managing medium and low risk offenders).

And yes, on the ground the work will still be done effectively, at least to begin with, because the majority of staff in these community rehabilitation companies (as they will be called) will be former Probation staff. But wait until G4S and Serco take over the contracts in 2015. Over time, professionalism will be replaced with the cheapest option, and the concept of public protection will become a distant memory.

Jeremy Wright said today that public protection will be safe because risk assessment will remain in the hands of the National Probation Service. 

But risk is dynamic, not static, so will those working directly with offenders be able to spot the signs? Will those alarm bells start to ring, based on professional experience and trained intuition? Or will the signs be missed as offender managers find themselves under pressure to hit payment-by-result targets to make each case look like a success?

Oh - and what a coincidence - the new contracts will be in place a month before the general election, so even a change of government won't stop it happening. Chris Grayling wants his legacy, for good or bad.

Tomorrow and Wednesday's strike probably won't lead to a u-turn in the government's plans. Although it just might, if enough members of the public kick up a fuss, write to their MPs, sign the petition etc, and make it known that these changes aren't being made in their name, or for their good.

I personally can't let it go ahead without making my view clearly known, and that's by going on strike and losing a day's pay. Because I didn't give up a perfectly good (and far less stressful) previous career for the money, the perks, the friendly faces or the gratitude. I would have been sorely disappointed if I had.

I became a Probation Officer because I felt that I had the skills to work with some of the most challenging people in society, engage with them, manage and reduce their risk, and hopefully do my bit to protect the public. And I want to be able to continue to do this as part of an organisation with an internationally respected track record for doing so.

If you feel moved to do so, please sign the petition: