The Ministry of Justice has launched a consultation on probation services alongside their consideration of community sentences. This process is open for all to comment and runs from the 27th March to 22nd June.
The stated aims of the consultation are to extend the principle of competition, explore “levering in the services of the voluntary and private sector”, the separation of commissioners from providers and a stronger role for probation trusts in commissioning.
Thus far, probation services have mainly been provided in the public sector. However, from the time of Elizabeth Fry and others highlighting the cruelty of prison conditions, and the creation of Circles of Support and Accountability, voluntary organisations have had a valuable role to play introducing innovation within the justice system. Is this consultation an opportunity for innovation, or a mechanism to reduce costs? To what extent should costs savings be achieved by allowing private enterprise to profit from working with the dangerous or vulnerable? Will payment by results and commercial interest undermine the valuing of individuals? All of these are issues which might affect responses to this consultation.
Whilst the document is clear throughout in its drive to increase competition it raises questions as to how this should be undertaken. The tone of the consultation is that whilst powers are already available to the government under the 2007 Offender Management Act to effect change they are seeking input on ways to do this.
The one area which appears to be protected within the public sector is the provision of sentencing advice to courts. There is recognition of the risk of the potential for a conflict if court advice was provided by a voluntary or commercial agency who also have commercial interests.
Comments are sought on a range of points from how small and medium size enterprises and voluntary bodies can be enabled to compete, to what issues are raised by local authorities and Police and Crime Commissioners becoming more accountable for probation services.
Details on how to submit responses in writing or electronically are all contained on the Ministry of Justice website.