Rose at 10.08 am
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Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) for bringing this debate to Westminster Hall. Effective rehabilitation must be at the heart of the UK’s prison system. The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, said in his most recent report that prisons are in their worst state for 10 years. We lock up more people than any other western European country and have a reoffending rate of more than 50% within a year of release. We need a more effective rehabilitation programme.
The recent changes were a missed opportunity for effective reform. I am deeply concerned about the programme’s implementation, including the fact that the changes were rushed through, the model was untested with no evidence provided to support it, and the service appears fragment. To quote the probation inspectorate report of December 2014, “Transforming Rehabilitation—Early Implementation, splitting one organisation into two created process, communication and information sharing challenges that did not previously exist. Many will remain a challenge for some time to come.
I will focus on staff retention and morale—
On 8 September 2015 my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) raised in the House the issue of Sodexo laying off 600 staff, many of whom were experienced in providing offenders with suitable skills and learning placements. I am concerned that offenders are now not being adequately supervised, risk-assessed or monitored. Sodexo is the biggest provider of probation in the privatised service, and has been attacked by Napo for the staffing cuts.
It is not an underestimate to state that staff morale is at an all-time low. There was an overwhelming lack of support for the policy change among staff before its implementation. In September 2014, results from a survey showed that 98% had no confidence in the plans. According to an article published in The Independent, at least 1,200 staff will have left by the end of the year as a result of redundancy, retirement or a career change due to disillusionment. As Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, has stated, there were only 9,000 probation officers to start with, so such a severe reduction in numbers raises important questions about the safety of the public—for example, victims of domestic violence.
Following the changes, I am concerned in particular about the morale of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff, 74% of whom were women. In May 2015 Napo’s national online survey of BAME probation service staff highlighted an alarming fall in confidence levels and morale: 80% of respondents experienced a decrease in their confidence in the probation service and 83% reported a decrease not only in the morale of staff, but in the service. A third of respondents believed that the probation service breached official guidelines during the transforming rehabilitation assignment process.
Radical and effective reform does not come through privatisation and autonomy. To prove that, we only need to look at the state of the national health service and education in this country or at a report by New Philanthropy Capital which shows that 28% of charity projects have reduced reoffending, compared with 19% of private companies.
I am deeply concerned about the impact of the changes on staff morale and the effectiveness of the rehabilitation programme as a whole. I call on the Government to respond to such concerns.