Friday 11 January 2013

Privatised probation

The announcement from the Department of Justice  that large chunks of what remains of the probation service are to be privatised is another example of the triumph of ideology over evidence.

The highly publicised failure of the private sector company  G4s to provide the necessary security for the Olympics, and the  way in which  the public sector army stepped into the breach at the last  minute and did a superb job,  should kill once and for all the notion the private sector is inherently and invariably more efficient than the public sector.

The private sector probation companies are to be paid by results, which necessitate the setting of targets.   Yet this very month a report about the NHS is being trailed with shows that targets in that service demoralise the nurses and forces them to take more note of the demands of managers than the needs of patients. So the probation "industry" is to be target driven  at the very time when further evidence demonstrates that targets distort outcomes, and not in the interests of the clients or patients.

In an attempt to make the privatisation proposal more palatable it is suggested that some of the contracts will be given to charities. Most charities are small, and since they won't get paid until they can demonstrate their "success," that is, some twelve to eighteen months after having undertaken the work, most will not have the financial resources to make the "bids."  Hence this is another example of handing over swathes of public provision to big business.

It is painful to see yet another aspect of our  civic society, carefully built up over the years, dismantled and handed over to organisations motivated only by profit.

Another dubious proposal  from the Department of Justice is that several small prisons are to be closed as uneconomical, and replaced by a big new one  designed designed to hold 1 000 prisoners, which will presumably enjoy "economies of scale." Yet the evidence is that ex-prisoners from smaller prisons have a lower re-offending rate than those from larger ones.  Once again the short term  financial "bottom line" is given priory over a more successful  long term outcome.

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