Probation Service Cuts ‘May Put Public At Risk’

A front-line probation officer has voiced colleagues’ fears that job cuts could endanger public safety.

The announcement on Thursday that 50 posts are to go at South Wales Probation Service has led to concerns that potentially dangerous offenders will not be supervised or rehabilitated to the extent they should be.

A South Wales probation officer, who must remain nameless, has expressed the concerns of his fellow professionals at having to operate a “fragmented” service.

Writing exclusively for the Western Mail, he said, “The Probation Service, originally founded in 1907, reaches its centenary milestone this year. At the same time, the current Labour Government seeks to implement changes that many in the service believe will result in a sub-standard, poorly funded operation. Practitioners on the front line also have grave reservations as to whether, as a result, they will be able to successfully meet their core objectives including the central tenets of rehabilitating offenders and protecting the public.

“Today’s practitioners face their third restructuring in just six years. What is particularly troubling is that previous changes have not been meaningfully assessed or reviewed, nor any reports produced – begging the question as to whether any sound business plan has in fact been developed to provide the necessary basis for further change. The result is workers left in a constant state of flux and uncertainty.

“The danger facing probation is of an increasingly fragmented service in which centrally determined targets will be the benchmark against which it will be expected to prove its worth on a figures-only basis. While these ‘essential changes’ may be touted as a means of giving ‘flexibility’ back to probation areas, the signs are actually of a disintegrating service which places the mantras of ‘efficiency’ and ‘value for money’ at the forefront of a service that should be solely concerned with quality of outcome rather than the private sector’s focus on profit and short-term savings. Instead, we will be left with a service that must prove its worth on a monthly basis with the threat of reduced funding and, potentially, a fight for its right to survive.”

The probation officer continued, “Against this backdrop, the view from the inside is that the Probation Service is reaching a tipping point. Practitioners feel they are well and truly under the cosh, reflected in the perceived abandonment by the government of a service that should be one of the genuine centrepieces of a progressive society.

“One particular recommendation for change has brought a more sobering side to the argument. While our remit is to rehabilitate and provide the enforcement necessary to ensure that punishment of an offender also occurs, a somewhat frightening proposal has emerged to allow case administrators – unqualified probation practitioners unfamiliar with risk assessment – to actively supervise Tier 1 and Tier 2 (lower risk) cases.

“Should we really be surprised when critics take a swipe at the government, saying their stated aim of placing the protection of the public at the heart of these changes is a hollow one? Or that the current agenda is nothing more than a crude exercise in money saving?

“The real change needed is not a creeping privatisation that allows the accusation to be levelled that government is adopting policies to avoid properly funding such an important institution – but direct investment and equal partnerships in which every agency has a stake and a voice. With taxpayers forking out their hard-earned money in the expectation that it will pay for decent public services, it cannot be unreasonable to expect adequate funding streams to be put in place for institutions like probation where it is so critically needed. Only then can a cohesive criminal justice system, effective in its aims of punishment, protection of the public and rehabilitation, be genuinely developed.”

When the cuts were announced last week, Ian Lankshear, chief officer of the South Wales Probation Service, said, “The current financial situation confronting the Probation Service requires action to ensure we are in the right shape for future development in criminal justice services.”