Keep probation services public

IN HIS interview (The Socialist 632), Brian Caton rightly highlights the hypocrisy of Ken Clarke’s plans to cut the prison population by increasing community sentences.

Barry Conway

As a probation officer, responsible for overseeing offenders in the community, I listened with interest as Clarke gave lengthy radio interviews about the importance of rehabilitation without once mentioning the probation service. As with prisons and all other public services, this government is planning to slash our budgets massively.

This year alone, the probation service has been told to cut £44 million and anticipates double this amount over the next two years. Cuts of this size will mean 20% fewer can be supervised safely in the community. So what is Clarke up to?

As Brian Caton points out, Clarke and his colleagues are looking for private companies and charities to do this work, and big business stands to make a healthy profit. Clarke gave the game away on the Today programme when he talked about “paying by results” to companies that show they stopped someone offending for two years by getting them a job or putting them through a rehabilitation programme.

But this is like telling a doctor that you will only pay them if the patient is cured. The logic of this is that you will only treat those you think you have a good chance of saving! So what happens to all the others with complex drug, mental health and personality problems in the prison system?

Prison and probation staff should stand united in defending our public services. We need also to fight for political change that can start to address the massive social inequalities that are the basis of much of the crime and anti-social behaviour in our communities.