My position at this moment in time is clear, I don’t want probation to be ‘sold off’. I don’t want the practices of public safety and the rehabilitation of offenders to be sold to private enterprise. The risks are great. The future for desisters from crime is they become commodities for very powerful conglomerates and unscrupulous profit makers.

However, my questions to current probationers have brought me to consider the options, or at least to try and discover what probationers think and what does the public think are the options, and what are they prepared to try. Early revelations reveal a disdain for probation practices and a certain level of mistrust from the probationer towards the probation officer. My experience becomes irrelevant to the discussion because the practices have changed so dramatically since my last experience of probation in 1995/6. Although my engagement now no longer a probationer and someone who is at least trying to engage has become not indifferent to those who mistrust the service.

One person said, “Probation are not interested in me, they just tick boxes.” Do probation just tick boxes – do probation actually have a vested interest in ‘rehabilitation’?  You would think that was a stupid question. However, according to just about everybody I’ve spoken too, said they don’t get the help, support and assistance required for them to desist from crime.

I see so much ‘good news’ on social media regarding the success probation have with service users, it’s not hard to conclude something is missing, because the word on the street is markedly different. This is not hard to understand why, after all, ‘offender’s are not usually like me, on social media, trying to engage the criminal justice system. If they are they’re usually marketing something, a book, a mentioning service, or are part of the criminal justice system affiliated to an organisation. Others who are publicly ‘ex-offenders’ have also become ‘fed-up’ with the ‘Save Probation’ bandwagon. Why? Simply because they don’t wish to engage with some of the issues from an ‘independent’ service-user perspective, ‘they just want to save their jobs’.

It’s also important to contrast the ‘good news’ with the anonymous probation officers on social media and those that have spoken to me personally who are highlighting the problems with probation, these are usually the PO’s who work at the coal face. I don’t want the probation service to become broken up and privatized, but my argument is mute if those on the ground don’t feel it’s working. The possible future providers (G4S, Serco, Interserve, et al) are not exactly engaging with [ex] service users either.

On a personal note, I feel I’m not welcome in terms of the ‘ex-offender’ discourse. Welcomed by academics in terms of current discourses surrounding desistance. But the CJS, definitely not. I’ve contacted my local probation service on a number of occasions, they don’t want to know.

My position is not a state of facts, it’s become ideological, which can’t be healthy, can my opinion or position change, yes of course it can. I’ve changed many of my opinions since leaving University, and I will change many more in the future. However, my experience of probation was good, and so have many other peoples, I’m just worried I’m blinded by it. The more people I speak too, the more I think allowing big enterprise and profit makers should be given a chance, at least.

I need to find out if my position is right, lots of current probationers think not, they exclaim – “what harm could it do, that is not already been done.” I sort of agree, but don’t want too. So I’m embarking on getting more information. In the next two weeks I will be standing on the streets of Leeds with clip board and leaflets garnering opinion. Most of the probationers I’ve spoken too, I know personally, I want opinion from those I don’t know; so I’ll be also standing outside certain probation offices in Leeds with clip board and leaflets. I hope my opinion does not change from its current cemented position, but I feel the cement cracking. We’ll just have to wait and see.

3 Responses to To Save or Not to Save (Probation)

  1. Probation is worth saving. There are alot of probation officers that come to work to go that extra mile for those we work with. If you sit around in a probation office or reception area long enough you’ll find it’s also the receptionist, admin staff, group worker, etc, that are giving advice and support too. A good manager will also be on-hand to provide support, and not just when asked either. Yes, there are many that benefit from the help and support from probation staff, just as there are victims, relatives, partners, children, etc, that reap the benefits too. I’ve witnessed some great relationships and achievements between staff and offender whilst on probation. Unfortunately there are also those that are not suited to the job and those that merely just ‘tick the box’, just as there are those offenders that will only have something bad to say about probation no matter how much we do to help them. I agree with you that offender opinion is not used enough, and the somewhat popular ‘service-user’ groups/forums lack credibility as too many probation managers and even probation CEO’s lack the oomph to implement real ideas and innovation. There has been a failure to actively recruit ex-offenders as probation officers, youth offending team workers, and social workers, which would have helped destigmitise ex-offenders and improved services in ways that mental health teams have been able to. It is correct and understandable that 18,000 probation staff are concerned about the demise of this vital service AND the loss of their jobs. Will be interesting to learn the outcome of your research.

  2. I recently asked over at the Napo forum – What do offenders think about probation privatisation?. Here’s an excerpt;

    ” … The problem in gaining client/offender support may be that the “public is at risk” argument, while true, may not be easy listening for many offenders, BUT I expect there will be many more that believe in probation and have experienced that Probation does rehabilitate, helps people to change and improves their quality of life, AND they need to know that they will be gravely affected when probation is taken over by G4S, Serco & Co. This other side of the argument is what I discuss with clients/offenders and I do believe it needs to be promoted more. Whether it’s ‘advise, assist & befriend’ or ‘help, punish, change, control’, first and foremost we provide a service of support to offenders and their families, and we need to let them know that come 2015 this service will be at an end.

    It should be no secret that we are fighting to ‘Save Probation’ for staff, offenders, victims and the public alike – but particularly for clients/offenders. It is their service too & they need to know whats on the horizon! Probation Officers & staff being should be informing offenders/clients on probation and in prison of the looming probation privatisation that will decimate the services they receive…. ”

    Raymond, it’s a pity I don’t work in Leeds as would have invited you in for a coffee & chat with myself & colleagues!

    • raymondlunn says:

      Thank you for your comments and appreciation of the discussion, which you have also highlighted elsewhere in terms of user-engagement. About the future destruction of a service, that had people in it that helped shape my future. If people wonder why I won’t ‘shut up’ and ‘go away’, or let those probation managers who follow and then unfollow when the discussion gets uncomfortable – it’s because one of their colleagues many years ago – taught me to feel equal, to not feel inadequate amongst the ‘great and the good’. I know what the probation service can achieve, I’ve seen it from many points of view – from the point of view of an offender, and ex-offender. From the point of view of a child whose Step-father was incarcerated and my Mother was helped by the probation service. And now from the view of observer and someone who is ‘trying’ to engage the service.

      I’ve seen the bad also, the guy who despaired and said there was ‘no hope for people in LS9″ – that young probation officer, and his comments was probably one of the drivers as to what I do today. It rocked the very ground I stood on, and dis-merged the historical partnership that existed between the probation service and the people and histories of those living in East Leeds. It spat on the memory of my late Step-father, my Probation Officer, my Step-fathers Probation Officer. Some people have no idea at what they are doing and have not learned from those dedicated individuals of the past and the present. – I’m going to come back to this, probably many times.

      I wish you was based in Leeds, because I know with you I would have a wonderful conversation about what’s brilliant about the service, with anecdotal evidence from the past which would make us all smile. But also I believe we would be able to discuss what is also wrong with it, and how it ‘can’ change and be saved.

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