What next?

Jim Brown /   June 29, 2015 at 8:37 PM 1,374 views

Despite the harbingers of doom, the general feeling seems to be that the strike was worthwhile and successful in bringing much-needed public attention to the cause of trying to save a well-performing public service. I also have to say how enormously uplifting it’s been to see so many images of colleagues taking action up and down the land and to have visual proof that collectively small actions can indeed add up to something really quite big. We’ve always bemoaned the fact that we get little media attention and people don’t understand what the government is intent on doing with it’s TR omnishambles proposals. Well, any casual glance around the internet will confirm that the day of action generated much media interest and therefore the question now becomes, what next? Without doubt attention now has to return to the House of Commons and the second reading of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill which takes place next Monday November 11th and as outlined here on the HoC website:- The Offender Rehabilitation Bill [HL Bill 88 2013-14] seeks to amend the law relating to the release, and supervision after release, of offenders released from short custodial sentences. It would also make some changes to community sentences. The Bill represents the legislative parts of the Ministry of Justice’s Transforming Rehabilitation strategy (see below). The Bill can be (broadly speaking) separated into three parts: 1. The first part, which consists of clause 1 alone, concerns the MoJ’s controversial proposals for reform of the probation services. Opponents of the proposed reforms have argued, among other things, that they would create perverse incentives for new contracted providers and lead to increased risks to public protection. These were not included in the Bill as introduced as the MoJ said it would make the changes using existing powers. Clause 1, a non-Government amendment, would require any change to the structure of the “probation service” to be approved by both Houses of Parliament first. 2. The second part, clauses 2-13, deals with the supervision of offenders released from short custodial sentences. All offenders released from sentences of less than two years would be subject to at least 12 months of mandatory supervision in the community. Many commentators have welcomed the proposals, but some have argued that they could lead to an increase in the use of short custodial sentences and an increase in recalls to prison. The Bill would also put on a statutory footing the requirement to have regard to the special needs of female offenders when making supervision arrangements. It would also introduce new drug appointment requirements and expand the categories of drugs that can be tested for. 3. The third part, clauses 14 -18, would amend the community sentencing framework. It would introduce a new “rehabilitation activity requirement” for community orders and suspended sentence orders and make amendments to allow private providers to be responsible officers for the supervision of offenders subject to such orders. It would also introduce a new mandatory requirement that offenders subject to such orders seek permission from their responsible officer before changing their place of residence. Territorial extent Most of the provisions of the Bill consist of amendments to existing legislation which applies to England & Wales only. There is a comprehensive briefing paper prepared by the HoC research team for the benefit of MP’s, but given the woeful degree of knowledge displayed by some, including my own MP, I seriously doubt if they ever read all this stuff. I suspect they rely heavily on their own young and enthusiastic researchers and the Whips of course, in order to decide what stance to take on any particular issue. Maybe I’m being unduly pessimistic and I have to admit that I have little insight into how the Westminster machine works, but I do know that right at this moment in the political cycle, minds are beginning to be focused on the next General Election and all parties are becoming especially alive to their image and likely fortunes. This is particularly true of the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition. I simply cannot believe that they can be happy with what their Tory partners are proposing for the Probation Service. It strikes me that it fundamentally goes against what Liberal Democrats believe in terms of local control and accountability of public services. Here we have a case of a highly successful and important public service, run by local independent Boards, and each with tailored services designed to suit local need and in partnership with other local agencies. If that isn’t an expression of Liberal Democrat philosophy, then I don’t know what is. By its abolition, surely even at this eleventh hour, they can see that what is being proposed is an omnishambles of epic proportions, that has virtually no support from anyone that knows about the criminal justice system, and that goes completely against their core beliefs and values centred on localism. In the small amount of time left to us and before the second reading of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill next week, I think we must try our upmost to impress upon Liberal Democrat MP’s in particular the utter folly of what is being proposed and that they use their considerable political muscle to stop this before it really is too late. Courtesy of Jim Brown at On Probation Blog  

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