A brave new outsourced world?
Another month of Coalition policy making gone by and more of the already tarnished veneer of the ‘Rehabilitation Revolution’ has peeled away to further reveal what we already knew: a) that the policy bares little or no resemblance to anything any rational person would consider to be in any way revolutionary; and b) the notion of the ‘rehabilitation’ of ex-prisoners was never really the core issue.
Yes, the ideological raison d’être of the policy was to cut so-called ‘re-offending’ by newly released prisoners, but alongside the more pressing motive force – saving money by cutting the prison population, and rehabilitation (“to restore to health or normal life by training and therapy; restore the standing or reputation of; restore to a former condition” – OED definition) was never the bottom line.
In fact, the central piece of the Coalition’s criminal justice legislation, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO), was originally due to actually include the word Rehabilitation (i.e. LASRO) but No. 10 decided that they needed the ‘hang ’em, flog ’em’ faction in the Tory Party (not to mention in the Media) on board in order to get it passed through Parliament. Not that it has had such an easy ride despite that, with the House of Lords particularly miffed at the curtailing of Legal Aid provision, but it has passed the final hurdle in that chamber, though with a further 11 amendments for the government to try and ditch when it comes back to the Commons on 17th April.
There was of course another core ideological driving force behind the policy, one that is conveniently smoke-screened behind the supposed need for cost-cutting: the mass outsourcing of government ‘services’ under the ‘Payment By Results’ banner, and in particular, as much of the criminal justice sector as the Tories could get away with, given the need for a certain amount of policy horse-trading with the Lib Dems. And the past month has seen a further invasion of the tentacles of the private ‘security’ sector into the State’s business.
Chief target has been the provision of community sentence monitoring and, by inference, the Probation Service. Already part-privatised via the Trust model, it now appears that it is due to be flogged off to the highest bidder as the direct result of a newly announced consultation into making community sentences ‘tougher’, i.e. more exacting and attractive to yer average Daily Mail reader, via “intensive community punishment sentences”, involving the greater use of electronic tagging, curfews and travel bans. Thus, the last vestiges of the old Probation model, helping ex-prisoners to resettle in the community, will be consigned to the scrapheap in favour of the of the Service effectively becoming just another wing of the Prison Service – we can’t afford to send people to prison, so let’s send the prison to them.
Most post-release prisoners are already subject to exacting licence conditions, in some cases amounting to external exile. Add to that the introduction of the early release Home Detention Curfew tagging experiment that has at least managed to free-up a few prison places, and the model is obvious (not that there is any evidence available for the effect of HDC on re-offending rates and electronic monitoring itself has been shown to be no more effective than other forms of community punishments). No doubt the heavy-duty lobbying by up to 30 companies last year when the previous eight-year tagging contracts held by G4S and Serco, and worth around £1bn, were up for tendering had something to do with it, especially as the industry was touting new hi-tech tags that can monitor a wear’s blood alcohol levels in addition to carrying out standard monitoring in real-time.
Given that there are a potential of 100,000 to 120,000 new ‘customers’ a year, it’s a market many want to get into. Currently a 90-day tag costs the taxpayer around £1,100, assuming no additional callouts (to reset the tag, etc.) compared to roughly £11,000 for a similar length stay in prison, but this new model is unlikely to save the government that much money in the long-run given the number of breaches of both HDC and, more particularly, licence conditions that lead to recall to prison, in the latter case often for the most mundane of reasons.
In another announcement, newly released prisoners will be subject to yet another intervention by private service providers, this time with regard to benefits. Now any prisoner who intends to claim benefits upon leaving prison will, in addition to having Jobcentre Plus staff process benefit claims whilst still in prison, will also be referred onto the Work Programme (WP) from ‘Day One’ (as the DWP press release ostentatiously calls it) or who subsequently claim Jobseeker’s Allowance within 13 weeks of release. Plus, WP providers will get £5,600 if they manage to get an ex-prisoner into work and keep them there for two years.
All the same JSA sanctions will apply to prisoners of course. So, not only will they have the current problems that apply to any newly released prisoner – license conditions, probably having to live in a bail hostel, attending probation meetings on time, trying to re-establish contact with friends and family, and generally finding one’s feet after being stuck in an environment where all your decision-making and most of your thinking was done by someone else – they will have to effectively do any job they are offered (not much change from being in prison then).
Except this plan completely ignores the key hurdle that prisoners face when finding a job post-release: the vast majority of companies refuse to employ ex-cons, and the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, even allowing for Ken Clarke’s recent low-level tinkering, remains an effective barrier to prisoners even getting so far as the interview stage. No amount of bribery (of potential employers) or coercion (sanctions) is going to overcome this barrier…
But hey, a select few will get rich just trying and screw those who fail to make the grade in this brave new outsourced world. So prepare to be nicked by G4S coppers, held in a G4S custody suite, escorted to a G4S-run court* by G4S guards, sent to a G4S factory-prison, release on a G4S tag, supervised by a G4S probation officer and shoved on a G4S-run workfare scheme.
* How long before there are G4S-provided judges?
(originally published in Freedom, May 2012)