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08 July 2020

PRT comment: Further reforms to probation

Commenting on the announcement by Robert Buckland that probation services will return to public control, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The new structure announced for probation has the advantage of simplicity, at least relative to the byzantine arrangements it replaces. But anyone expecting a significant impact on reoffending as a result should contain their optimism. Mandatory supervision for everyone released from prison, no matter how short their sentence, has resulted principally in an explosion in recalls to prison. As our report “Broken Trust” revealed, people often conceal their needs from probation staff for fear of being recalled. It matters little to the person needing help whether their supervising officer is a civil servant or the employee of a private company if that help isn’t forthcoming. Far from being slowed down, the revolving door has been given an extra shove.

“For probation to work, local partnerships are essential. That will be with the voluntary sector organisations that command the personal trust that statutory bodies often do not. It will be with housing providers, local authorities and local employers. It will be with the police and health services. None of those relationships can be created in a central government department. They all require confidence that organisations will be stable and their leadership sufficiently autonomous to offer the sharing of resources that underpin effective multi agency work.

“The role of central government in probation in recent years has been entirely destructive. Whether that continues to be the case will depend on whether the ministry has the humility and good sense to devolve power to a local level. That rarely comes naturally to central governments of any persuasion. It’s too early to tell how this one will behave.”