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After four years of tory misrule, privatisation of public services is in full swing. Academy schools, the NHS, the postal service, higher education... But one of the biggest feeding grounds of the government's favourite private sector vultures hasn't aroused as much opposition as the others (other than demos by the National Association of Probation Officers, who are not our natural bedfellows). Presumably because they think no one cares about criminals, the probation service and the prison estate are being passed into private hands faster than you can say “I didn't see nothin', guv”.
So here SchNEWS presents the whats, whys and whos of the great probation sell-off.
Plans to contract out the majority of the probation service are being steamrollered through, with the 2015 general election billed as the deadline. Under the new system, 'high risk' offenders released from long sentences will still be dealt with by the public sector National Probation Service (NPS). Those considered 'low' or 'medium' risk will be dealt with for one year following release by one of the private sector providers – representing 88 per cent of the rehabilitation services, a figure that has leapt upwards from the 70 per cent initially quoted.
Rather than simplifying the probation service, the probation plans involve creating a dual level service where the state and private sector work in the same areas. The private sector contracts are being sold off in 16 contract areas, designed to achieve 'economies of scale' and give reasonable samples by which to judge providers' performances which are on a 'payment by results' system hinging on reducing re-offending rates. At the same time, the service they provide is supposed to be 'locally responsive'.
The 'payment by results' system has its own inherent contradictions – success means less business coming your way in the long run – which is why the probation services have traditionally not been seen as a viable private project. Along with the fact that without some significant cost-cutting there's no way it could make a profitable business in the first place.
Of all the research into reducing rates of re-offending, the stand out theme has been that the act of imprisoning people, particularly short sentences for minor crime, is one of the major factors that encourage re-offending. Community sentences are significantly more effective, cheaper, and less damaging for the families of those convicted.
True to form, the government have chosen to ignore sense and logic in their quest to establish an authoritarian-capitalist dystopia in the British Isles and, instead of looking at alternative sentencing, are building a 'Titan' super-prison in Wrexham, which will house 2000 inmates at any one time with four further, smaller, radial prisons nearby each housing 1000. Whether the titan prison will be in public or private hands is yet to be confirmed. The Prison Reform Trust have stated that this will do nothing for the vulnerable people incarcerated there, will be difficult to manage, and seems to be purely for 'political capital'. It's a sad world we live in when warehousing thousands of our fellow citizens in an uber-jail is seen as a vote winner.
Bizarrely justice minister Chris Grayling, who's masterminding the probation 'revolution', has stated that the radical overhaul is “not a money-making exercise”. This leaves a fog over the question of what's the point, leaving only ideological explanations viable: Giving as much power and money to the quasi-state, unaccountable mega-services corporations as possible. Those suspected to be in the running for the contracts, unsurprisingly, are the likes of G4S, A4E and Serco.
That's G4S whose guard murdered a 15-year-old at a G4S-run children's home back in 2006 and later promoted the individual responsible to health and safety manager; baked an aboriginal elder to death in the back of one of their vans during an outback journey in Australia; who have seen riots at the prisons they run in South Africa after allegations they tortured inmates with electric shocks and forcefully administered anti-psychotic injections to non-psychotic victims; and had to be stripped of their UK asylum seeker removal contract after they suffocated Angolan deportee Jimmy Mubenga to death, to name just a handful of minor misdemeanours.
Their track record of spending tax payers' money is just as bad as their record for cruelty. They completely screwed up the Olympic security gig and had to be bailed out by the state, and recently had to be investigated for serious fraud after overcharging the government for their electronic tagging contract to the tune of millions.
A4E were also investigated for serious fraud after it emerged that during the course of their implementation of the Work Programme they failed to meet any of their targets and performed 'abysmally' yet still gave their chairperson £9 million in dividends. She later stepped down, embarrassed by the press but incredibly rich, so all's well that ends well.
Serco have been under pressure for the sexual abuse going on at Yarls Wood detention centre, which they run. They were also involved in the electronic tagging debacle, during the investigation for which both Serco and G4S were temporarily suspended for applying for government contracts. As they were to top bidders for another controversial Grayling plan to privatise three actual prisons, that plan had to be shelved. Handily, however, the whitewash/conclusions of the investigation are due to be completed just in time for them to get their claws into the £1 billion-a-year probation contracts. The murderous tax-money vampires live to see another day.
The use of 'secret dossiers' to detain Palestinians indefinitely and without charge - the struggle continues as the latest victims are kidnapped and imprisoned.
Mass squatting action in metal recycling plant pulled off in style, after brutal policing leaves hundreds of undocumented people without shelter.
Immigration rights activists descend on Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres to bring a message of solidarity and resistance.
The US and the EU are negotiating a new trade agreement – TTIP – which amounts to the biggest transfer of power to corporations seen in recent years.
We started writing about three interesting but unrelated things happening in June. Here is an amalgamated version, which is worth a read.
As politicians get ready to debate the HS2 rail project for the second time, campaigners fight for secret documents to be released - and the environmentally devastating project to be shelved.
Brighton students demo in favour of teachers' strike attracts police attention.
SchNEWS presents Bosnian correspondent Amila Bosnae's take on the current uprising shaking the country.