October 7, 2010: Probation Set For Industrial Action
It is looking increasingly likely that swingeing cuts in funding for criminal and community justice will lead more imprisonment and industrial action
Delegates to probation union Napo’s 98th AGM, held in Scarborough from 7-9 October, look set to vote for a campaign of industrial action if the 25% cut to the Probation Service and threats to privatise unpaid work and hostels go ahead as expected.
Currently the vast majority of probation expenditure is spent on staff costs. At the moment the service employs 20,000 people and this is expected to fall by 5,000 by March 2012. This will undermine the ability of the Probation Service to carry out its statutory duties.
Industrial action is likely to involve concerted activity across the criminal justice unions and the public sector as a whole. In addition, Napo will be organising a mass lobby of parliament in March.
Critically, major cuts and reductions in the number of probation employees will lead to changes in court report writers’ and sentencers’ behaviour.
Probation staff have a professional duty to provide the courts with information on the suitability and availability of court sentences. Staff have a responsibility to inform magistrates of the availability of relevant programmes and unpaid work, in accordance with Ministry of Justice National Standards.
These currently state that offenders must be seen within five days of orders being made, that programmes must commence no later than six weeks after the court date and that the first unpaid work placement must be within 10 days. Increasingly, and in the future, those standards will not be met. Courts will be reluctant to sentence people to community orders if, because of staff redundancies, supervision cannot be guaranteed.
The Probation Service currently supervises over 240,000 people on community orders and pre and post custody release. Of these 50,000 individuals have been convicted of sexual or violent offences and are monitored by joint police and probation panels known as Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA). In addition the service prepared 225,000 court reports for magistrates and judges last year.
A 25% cut in staff would lead to a similar reduction in court orders and would affect all programmes that are successfully run by the Probation Service. This will involve programmes dealing with domestic violence, sex offenders and thinking and social skills.
The vast majority of people on programmes are prolific offenders. Last year 40,000 individuals completed programmes. The reoffending rate for prison is 66%, for supervision orders it is 50%, but for those who complete programmes it falls to 34%. The curtailment of programmes is bound therefore to lead to a rise in reoffending.
In Napo’s view courts will be forced to use short prison sentences if no resources are available for community orders. Ironically that will result in an increase in the short term prison population – the exact opposite of what the Coalition desires.
Most of those who are given a short prison sentence will serve an average of two months. A 25% reduction in court orders therefore will see an increase in the daily prison population of 6,000. The Coalition will need to build four new 1,500 bed jails in order to cope. It currently costs over £60 million a year to run a prison and up to £500 million to construct a new establishment.
The government will build any new prisons under the private finance initiative and will end up repaying over 25 years up to two to three times the nominal cost of building the prisons. The additional cost to the Ministry of Justice of running the extra prisons will be in the region of £500 million per year. This will be up to five times greater than the savings made by cutting probation.
Napo is today launching a 10 point action plan to fight the cuts and privatisation which includes:
- Napo members will be advised, on professional grounds, to take into account when making recommendations to the courts the ability of the service to meet its statutory requirements for all forms of supervision and unpaid work.
- Napo will join forces with other criminal justice and public sector unions for days of concerted action.
- Napo will organise a national lobby in the New Year to bring home to parliamentarians the effect of the cuts. Locally, Branches will lobby their MPs on the issue of cuts and privatisation, additionally briefing the press and local professionals/stakeholders.
Napo has also produced a briefing for all parliamentarians warning of the consequences of the cuts for sentencing and the prison population. This will be sent to all MPs when parliament recommences on 11 October.
The Coalition also intends to privatise and expand unpaid work and hostels. The preferred bidders are Serco, Kalyx and Mitie. It is taking this action in order to cut costs and toughen-up supervisions image. Unpaid work supervisors are currently paid £8.50 an hour. It is difficult to see how those rates could be reduced further in order to maximise profits.
Successive governments have tried and failed to toughen-up community orders; the reality is they will never be seen by the public as a tough alternative to jail. The government needs to recognise this and invest in programmes and initiatives that are known to reduce reoffending in the community and are much cheaper than custody. All attempts to introduce privatisation so far, such as bail beds and cleaning and maintenance contracts have failed.
Harry Fletcher, Assistant General Secretary of Napo, who is launching the campaign against the cuts today, said:
“The Probation Service can’t fulfil its statutory duties and adhere to National Standards if 25% cuts go ahead. The immediate effect will be redundancies, fewer court reports recommending non custodial options and a rise in the short term prison population. Nap members are committed to the concepts of rehabilitation and protecting the public but these aims will be compromised when the cuts take place”.
“Industrial action is inevitable and will involve joint initiatives with other public sector unions. It is ironic that if the Coalition invested in the Probation Service in the short term it would save massive amounts in the medium and long term. The government should invest in probation and not cut and privatise it”