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.