It has long been accepted in Westminster, including by those who were actually in the Ministry of Justice when it took place, that the privatisation of the Probation Service hasn’t worked very well. That’s putting it mildly, as today’s report from HM Inspectorate of Probation shows.
The report found that in seven out of 10 cases, private probation companies were providing ‘inadequate’ protection for victims of domestic abuse when their abusers return to the community. Probation officers were handed impossibly weighty workloads of up to 60 cases each, and the implications of this were that fewer than a third of offenders were referred to what are known as ‘perpetrator programmes’ which are designed to teach them to change their behaviour, and home visits were only carried out in 19 per cent of the cases where they were needed.
This isn’t a niche part of the job of private probation companies - or Community Rehabilitation Companies, as they’re known. In fact, according to HMIP, as many as half the 158,727 cases in the probation system could include domestic abuse. Yet the inspectors reported a lack of expertise in dealing with this widespread crime.
This shocking report doesn’t just expose yet another part of the Ministry of Justice’s portfolio that is in crisis. It also shows how much the government’s drive to tackle domestic abuse is being undermined in certain departments. Despite the fact that the Home Office is currently drafting flagship legislation on domestic abuse, it has had to contend with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government considering - then dropping - plans to change refuge funding that would have led to the closure of many of these specialist services, and now evidence that victims are being put at risk by a programme supervised by the MoJ. While the ministers directly involved in the domestic abuse legislation are well-briefed on the complexities involved in tackling it, there is a wider lack of understanding which could totally undermine even their best efforts. It will be pointless for them to claim they are better protecting victims if other departments’ botch jobs make that impossible.