Chris Grayling’s Transforming Rehabilitation agenda is about to completely decimate a service whose aim is to protect the public and rehabilitate offenders

PrisonerSince his appointment as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice in 2012, Chris Grayling has set about to reshape how justice is delivered in this country under the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) agenda. His plans are not new, but were started under New Labour in 2003 when the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 was first reviewed and later by Kenneth Clark’s 2010 Breaking the Cycle of Offending green paper. However, since Chris Grayling has taken office he has set in motion change at an unprecedented rate – similar to the pace he imposed the most devastating reforms to welfare and the benefit system as the Minister of State for Employment.

The TR agenda sets to privatise 70% of the probation service into 21 regional Community Rehabilitation Centres (CRCs) all of whom are currently being bid for by private companies like G4S and Serco despite being under investigation for fraud by the Serious Fraud Office. The delivery of some of the rehabilitative elements of this service is to be offered to the Third Sector who traditionally use volunteers and the free labour market and will be managed by the winning bidders of the CRC contracts. The remaining 30% of the current probation service is to be merged into a National Probation Service which is specifically left to deal with the most serious of offenders. The accelerated timetable is set to be implemented before the 2015 general election.

Over 225,000 Medium to low risk offenders are to be transferred to the management of the CRCs who will be paid on a payment-by-result basis, similar to the model introduced to the companies who mange the work programme; A4e for example. In fact, every prisoner who leaves prison, since March 2012, and applies for Job Seekers Allowance, is automatically referred to the work programme.

Another of the changes to be enforced under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act Amendment Bill is that every prisoner who leaves prison, having served a short (less than a year) sentence, is to receive a 12 months Supervision Order added to their sentence. The extra 45,000 offenders this will effect will be added to an already over stretched probation service. However, under the creation of the new CRCs the additional 45,000 offenders will now form part of the cohort to be overseen by the CRCs.

The notion behind this implementation is the rehabilitation element – currently offered by Probation Trusts through partnerships within the Third Sector. This need to rehabilitate through community sentences was born out of the lack of rehabilitation in prisons. Having worked within the Third sector for the last 18 months it has become increasingly apparent that rehabilitation within prisons is now completely defunct.

According to academics, scholars and criminologists who have studied the educational attainment of prisoners who enter the prison system, 50% of all prisoners who enter prison have a reading and writing age below that of an 11 year old. This statistic alone has allowed for the provision of funds and services delivered by private companies, similar to those bidding for the CRC contracts, over the last decade. However, a statistic which is very much kept under wraps is that 50% of all prisoners who leave prison have a reading and writing age below that of an 11 year old, indicating that these services are doing very little to address one of the issues that offenders face and may in fact contribute to offending behavior.

Under the Coalition Government’s green paper Breaking the Cycle of Offending it is suggested that employment is one of the main contributing factors in reducing reoffending. However, there is very little evidence to suggest that this is true. In fact, there is more evidence to suggest the opposite. Studies have suggested that sustained employment may contribute to reducing offending, but other factors cannot be ignored. Under Chris Grayling’s TR and payment-by-results agenda, sustained employment forms one of the measures to be targeted. The current work programme accepts sustained employment as 3 months of continuous employment.

The fear of those in the rehabilitation market is that in chasing payment by private companies other areas around rehabilitation will not be addressed, as evidenced within prisons, and leaves open the opportunity of exploitation for the financial advancement and profiteering of the newly formed CRCs at the expense of the offenders.

The current media fuelled political propaganda of the individualised responsibilisation of choice incites the general public into a belief system that offenders chose to offend and should not be entitled to any assistance. This idea does not address the failures of society and government to provide adequate provision and services to the working class who make up the majority of those who are convicted of offences. Further, the politicisation of law and order mystifies the public away from the crimes of the state who continue to exploit the under privileged for the purpose of upholding capitalism and profiteering. The TR agenda is simply another measure by which the political elite intend to extend their financial interests.

Anita de Klerk

Anita de Klerk is a lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy, Marxist activist and founder of the People's Flotilla Against Austerity.