Grayling has much to answer for

I know Chris Grayling is not a lawyer and that he is often criticised for his lack of legal knowledge and experience but he did a damn good impression of a top lawyer when he appeared today in Parliament to answer criticism of his reforms to the probation service, blamed by probation chiefs for two recent murders.

It was so frustrating to watch as he escaped proper cross examination of the issues for the lack of knowledge of those charged with doing so.

For years the government has complained about the high reconviction rate amongst those released from prison after serving short term sentences. Successive Justice ministers have sought to blame the probation service and even today, Grayling, in defending his reforms, blamed for at least two recent murders and a host of other offences committed by people under the supervision of the new service, uses this same attack on the probation service by citing unacceptable levels of reoffending as justification for his reforms. No mention of a sorry then!

For those of you who do not know what I’m banging on about, I am talking about the recent probation service break up. The basis for the reforms is that the probation service is not delivering on rehabilitation and instead the low to medium risk offenders will now be monitored by the private sector, “Community rehabilitation Companies” or CRCs, while the “High Risk” offenders will remain to be monitored by the service formerly known as the Probation service.

As said above, the perceived problem has always been re-offending rates of the shorter term prisoners. What he and his predecessors have not told you though, is that offenders released after serving less than 12 months are never ordinarily supervised by the probation service. This is a situation completely devised by government ministers, (presumably based on financial considerations because of the high numbers of released short term convicts, estimated at 200,000 that would require supervision) not judges or probation officers and is something that parliament could change but have thus far refused to do so. Now they have a willing private sector so can claim to be rightly addressing the issue.

The evidence that these reforms are intended as nothing more than a ploy to win votes must be the fact that this inadequate Probation service is left supervising the “High” risk offenders because the private sector will not take them on.

And if the former probation service is unable to effectively monitor low to medium risk offenders, how is a CRC made up of woefully ill-equipped and inexperienced organisations with profit and only profit in mind and who will be taking over a reduced number of over-worked and under resourced staff from the probation service.

Today Grayling was unrepentant, preferring to save face than admit defeat, notwithstanding an 18 page letter from Probation chiefs, evidencing amongst other things the fact that the probation officer assigned to one of the would be murderers was not only a mere trainee but was also so over-worked that she could not maintain her home visits schedule for that and/or other offenders supposedly under her supervision. The offender in question who also killed himself had previously been convicted of a domestic violence offence. He ought to have been the subject of closer and more expert supervision.

Another probation officer was sexually assaulted by an offender she was supervising. His file carried with it a warning that he should not be alone with female probation officers.

The probation officers in question and their supervisors did not ignore these warning, they simply did not know about them. The information on high risk offenders that the “probation service” holds is not available to the CRCs and their staff.

The CRCs are only meant to be dealing with low – medium risk offenders so this should not matter. However, that is where we have been lied to again. Offenders convicted of domestic violence offences are, like others often made to complete a “programme” of rehabilitative work. Many domestic violence offenders are rightly categorised as High risk yet as the “programmes” side of the newly reformed service falls within the remit of the new CRCs, the employees of these new services are often unwittingly working with High risk offenders in respect of whom they have no prior knowledge.

My wife is a probation service officer and she delivers one such programme to domestic violence offenders. Until recently, she would access all the information held by the service on her intended delegates as would her management. Now such information is not available to her.

This is obviously a dangerous situation to exist. These concerns amongst other were properly raised by those opposed to the reforms, hey were protested, marches were held and legal challenges brought. It was all ignored by the Lord Chancellor and his department and the tragedy is that the empirical evidence that they were right is now available for us all to see and so soon after implementation.

This government is lying to us. This government is trading people like commodities or at least it is allowing others to do so. Do we care if it doesn’t directly affect us?

The situation facing immigrants, the sick, the poor due to benefits capping, withdrawal of legal aid, cuts to funding of social services etc is no different. This government are outsourcing everything at huge cost to the end user, using austerity as the perfect excuse. We as an electorate are not so stupid that we do not know what is going on yet we turn a blind eye, we convince ourselves that defecit reduction and a growing economy is worth the sacrifice. We are selfish essentially so we allow it to happen.

I am constantly reminded of the sentiment of the twice booker prize winning author Hilary Mantel when she commented last month that by todays standards, the way we treat each other as a society makes the middle ages appear enlightened.