This piece takes a look at the article ‘Doing with or doing to – What Now For the Probation Service’ by Lol Burke and Steve Collett in the June 2008 issue of Criminal Justice Matters.
The article starts with a look back to before the mid 70’s when the so-called Butskellite consensus existed. This is that there was supposed to ‘a loose agreement across the mainstream political parties that a relatively liberal approach to offenders should not be undermined by naked party politics.’(pg.9) I’m personally not so sure about this, I would relate it more to the conditions imposed by Keynesian style capitalism as opposed to neo-liberal capitalism.
At this time however, ‘the Probation service was often lauded for its work, but it remained a Cinderella service…’(pg.9) However, it also helped to co-ordinate a series of voluntary organisations organising victim support and support for offenders after release from prison.
In the 90s, a shift occurred in the orientation of the probation service – fringe service no more, according to the authors ‘In essence, the Probation Service became a law enforcement agency…’(pg.9). I believe this refers to the myriad of non-custodial sentences which are administered by the probation service – not just probation but community service etc.
They then move onto discuss the New Labour era and the contracting out of various bits of the public sector. The probation service like other public services became driven by targets and cash linked incentives. Yet almost as soon as a national service had been created, the government was planning on breaking it up again.
In the beginning of this year, the latest restructuring of the Ministry of Justice has seen the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), containing both prisons and probation, split between delivery and strategy – this means that the Director General of the Prison Service will effectively have control of Probation too.
I struggle however, to understand the final part of the article. From what they are saying it looks like the new body will be in the main a commissioning service – this fits in with some of the conclusions drawn from the recent Casey report which argues for the private sector to provide community service (suitably re-named to ‘toughen’ it up).