Friday, December 23, 2005

Probation Service

We're all outraged by the horrific murder of John Monckton on his own doorstep, especially now we know that his killer was a dangerous paroled prisoner. Who's responsible?

First in the firing line is the Probation Service who failed to keep tabs on him. As Christine Glenn, chief executive of the parole board, says:

“If the parole panel had known he was going to be living in London he would never have been released. They (the probation service) not only put him in London, they put him very close to the exclusion area.”

And now we learn that the Probation Service has completely lost track of another bunch of paroled murderers, rapists and arsonists. They might be outside your frontdoor right now.

What on earth's going on? A glance at the Service's Annual Report confirms the worst. It costs us £1bn pa, yet its top priority is not "Protecting the Public From Harm". That's only number two.

No, the Probation Service sees its top priority as the spectacularly opaque "Contribute to the Building of an Excellent NOMS". That turns out to be the usual buraucratised internally focused gobbledigook. And it gives due consideration to organisational "diversity targets", "excellence", "leadership", and- hah!- "reducing bureaucracy".

But the most revealing phrase is this:

"The aim will be to demonstrate that interventions has acquired a real and visible competitive edge enabling it to compete successfully against voluntary and private sector providers."

Well, why? If voluntary and private sector providers do it better- as they often do- why not let them get on with it? Indeed, why not reallocate some of the Probation Service's budget to them?I mean we punters don't really care who's doing the job of keeping us safe. Just as long as somebody is.

But of course, blaming the Probation Service is missing the point. They've been giving the impossible task of managing a bunch of villains with an average reoffending rate of 60% (73% for under-21s). And despite the government's announced target to reduce this by 10%, there is absolutely no sign we have the faintest idea how to do it.

As we've blogged before, the only thing we know actually works is prison. Sad maybe, but true. Reform's excellent chart above tells the story (BCS stands for British Crime Survey and the line shows the number of crimes measured by that survey).

Yes it costs- 40 grand pa per prisoner. But I'd rather be safe.

And come to think of it, if we wound up the Probation Service, that would pay for another 25,000 prison places.

Happy Christmas.

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