Theresa May will be hoping a busy news cycle keeps a “devastating report on a growing scandal” off the front page. Because the central plank of the Conservative government’s privatisation of the justice system has just fallen apart under scrutiny.
The probation service
In 2013, the Conservative government decided to privatise almost 70% of the probation service. And it banned the existing probation service from competing for contracts.
At the time, the public probation service met or exceeded all its performance targets, with victim feedback positive in 98% of cases. And in 2011, the service received the British Quality Foundation’s Gold Medal. This was a service at the top of its game.
So what happened?
The Guardian reports:
In what critics dubbed a ‘devastating report on a growing scandal’ Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation, and Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons, say that the work done by the 21 community rehabilitation companies in the government’s Through the Gate programme is having a negligible impact on reducing prisoner reoffending rates, two years after its introduction.
The chief inspectors say that too many prisoners have been released not knowing where they would sleep that night, that in too many cases prisoners’ risk to the public had been inadequately assessed before release, and despite much talk about the use of mentors, they could find only one prisoner out of a sample of 98 who had been mentored.
‘The overall picture is bleak,’ they conclude. ‘If Through the Gate services were removed tomorrow, in our view the impact on the resettlement of prisoners would be negligible.’
The Conservative government managed to take a world-leading probation service, and make it substandard. And it’s not just happening in the probation service.
Outsourcing the justice system
The inexorable rise of private security giant G4S tells the tale of UK justice outsourced to the lowest bidder. The private security giant makes more than £1bn a year from contracts with the UK government, despite a litany of catastrophic performance that has resulted in millions of pounds in overcharging, and death.
In 1992, G4S became the first private contractor to run a state prison – taking over HM Prison Wolds. Since then, successive governments allowed G4S to quietly buy up large tracts of our crime and justice sector.
It is increasingly likely that if someone commits a crime in the UK they will be arrested by a G4S-provided officer, detained in a G4S cell, transported to court by a G4S van driven by G4S officers, that the court will be manned by G4S security officers, and that they’ll be sent to a G4S prison and released into the G4S probation service to live in a G4S run half-way house.
You can learn more about the privatisations in the slideshow below:
The cost of failure
The track record of private providers in the justice system has been less than positive.
In 2013, the Ministry of Justice was forced to open an inquiry after it was revealed G4S had overcharged for its electronic tagging service, costing the taxpayer millions.
After outsourcing to ALS, a radical cost-cutting exercise left the court translation service in crisis. Around 1,000 translators failed to turn up to court, resulting in costly trial delays. Prior to the privatisation, translators were chosen directly from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters. The service was the envy of Europe.
The government also closed down the Forensic Science Service. The closure of the service was estimated to cost the taxpayer £350m (three times the government’s initial forecast). And more than three quarters of UK forensic scientists responding to a New Scientist study believe the decision will lead to miscarriages of justice. These fears are justified. In March of 2013, an investigation began into private forensics firm LCG, after a contaminated DNA sample provided by the firm saw a man jailed for rape in a city he had never even visited. The findings forced the justice system to reopen and review all judgements reliant on forensic evidence processed by LCG.
So it is clear. Handing over such critical services to the private sector came at a large human and financial cost to the public. But despite this litany of failure, the quest to sell our services continues at speed. If we want a justice system left, we must do better.
– Join and support the Save Legal Aid Campaign.
– Join and support the Sound Off For Justice Campaign.
Featured image via YouTube screengrab
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