Napo members striking against privatisation in 2013, photo Paul Mattsson

Napo members striking against privatisation in 2013, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

A probation hostel worker

The criminal justice system was already stretched to breaking point before Covid. Massive redundancies have left prisons understaffed, with inexperienced officers dealing with prisoners with complex needs.

And the Probation Service has also taken a hit with cuts and privatisation of certain sectors. Parts of probation dealing with low-risk offenders are being taken back into the public sector, because offending rates went up when they were privatised.

Probation hostels work with high-risk offenders, usually violent or sexual offenders, and were not privatised – although maintenance of buildings and equipment is contracted out.

We can wait months for showers to be fixed and spend hours chasing jobs. Contractors often come 50 or 100 miles to fix something that should take less than half an hour, only to discover they haven’t brought the correct part.

In one hostel, a corroded gas pipe was discovered. The pipe was directly beneath the duty office and could easily have caused an explosion.

Private contracting is the most inefficient, dangerous and environmentally unfriendly way to maintain the service. Risk assessments are written by management and staff are expected to sign.

We need to insist on union oversight but the leadership of our union, Unison, is very weak. Staff feel patronised by management posters around the hostel thanking them for being heroes during the pandemic.

Most high-risk offenders leave prison on parole and spend three months in a hostel, where staff monitor their risk and support their move back into society. Many hostels around the country are in converted buildings, often Victorian. Some bedrooms have two or three residents.

Because of Covid, single occupancy of rooms has been introduced, potentially causing a backlog of prisoners waiting to be released. This has been partially overcome by moving offenders on after one month into a B&B, with far less supervision.

However, the funding for B&Bs came to an end at the end of August. Maintaining single occupancy of rooms over a long period of time is unsustainable. It is likely that management will demand further cuts in staff pay and conditions to pay for it.

Staff are angry, frustrated, and some are frightened. They feel helpless without a lead from their union. But all that could change. Like the gas pipe, battles could explode unexpectedly.

The Socialist Party says:

  • Fight for a democratic, fighting union leadership
  • Full funding for safe probation accommodation
  • Put the justice sector fully in the public sector, under democratic workers’ control and management