John Deering and Martina Feilzer have looked at the topic of the outsourcing of probation and offender management for a few years and John himself was a probation officer for 12 years.
In today’s guest blog post they contrast the findings of the survey they conducted across a range of probation service staff just prior to the overhaul of the probation service last year which saw 70% of all work being outsourced to private sector and voluntary partnership organisations.
Whatever you make of Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) and the outsourcing of probation, whether you question the normative principles or you regard this as nonsensical nostalgia, what is clear is that the changes have proven highly divisive.
The Probation Service was split in June 2014, almost a year ago now. The new National Probation Service (NPS) became responsible for carrying out risk assessments, making recommendations to the courts, and the management of high risk offenders.
The NPS retained about 30% of the previous Probation Service workload. The remaining 70% of work was outsourced to 21 new Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), some run by private sector companies, such as Sodexo, and some run in partnerships between voluntary and private sector organisations.
John and I wanted to understand how these seismic changes were being felt throughout the organisation and so we conducted a series of interviews and an online survey to gauge responses.
We started by interviewing a very small sample of probation managers who had joined the public sector in consultant or senior management positions. Our findings suggested that those who volunteered to join the private sector felt capable of holding on to their values of despite moving to the ‘dark side’. Interviewees in this study suggested that the private sector would see the provision of a good service as the best way to make a profit.
“those who volunteered to join the private sector felt capable of holding on to their values of despite moving to the ‘dark side’”
We then contrasted the privileged positions of those choosing to work in the private sector with the views of probation staff who had no voice in the changes proposed to their work environment. We sent out a link to an online survey via NAPO – the probation trade union – and some probation trusts and received responses from probation staff of all grades.
What emerged was that those who responded to the survey were strongly opposed to the changes brought about by TR, in particular the involvement of ‘for profit’ organisations. Respondents felt strongly that: ‘People who commit offences need to be seen as humans not cash cows’.
There was a sense that the changes imposed on probation were destroying a good quality service, that the fragmentation of the service was stoking up problems for the future, and that ‘probation has now lost the meaning it used to have’. As a public service which was able to accommodate staff with varying views of the causes of offending behaviour and the best ways to address this, probation has disappeared.
“‘The TR changes are only going ahead because the majority of the current workforce feels trapped or captive, without short-term options.’”
Our findings showed a divided and disparate workforce. Some probation practitioners mistrust their managers, NPS staff and CRC staff do not communicate easily, and ‘dinosaurs’ appear to be at odds with ‘newbies’. The CRCs have inherited a workforce in which a significant minority have doubts over their own future in the service, and whether they will be able to stick to their values and ideals which led them to taking up this work in the first place. As one of our survey respondents suggested: ‘The TR changes are only going ahead because the majority of the current workforce feels trapped or captive, without short-term options.’
How then can staff ‘get on’ with the work of supporting some of the most vulnerable and disliked members of our communities? I meet many students who want to join probation and work with offenders and there is hope as they are still motivated to help change lives and protect communities from the harm of crime.
However, they are entering the world of offender management at a time of great uncertainty and unhappiness. In our book we have asked the question whether the motivations and values of the individual are more important than organisational features and priorities.
There are some in probation who say it is time to stop moaning and get on with the job! What the future will bring for probation is unclear and for many of those caught in the middle of current transitions it has been and continues to be an emotional and difficult ride.
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