While everyone was looking the other way at the Home Secretary’s warm initial response to Winsor part 2, and his own by-now-ritual promise to toughen-up community sentences, the Justice Secretary put out a consultation on the future of probation. It was notable for what it didn’t say about Police and Crime Commissioners. One of the great things potentially planned for the “and Crime” bit of the job was a role commissioning local Probation services, but the report talks of decreasing the number of Probation areas, which would mean they would no longer be a good match to the Police Areas on which Police and Crime Commissioners will commission. The consultation mentions PCCs possibly having oversight over probation at some time in the future, or local councils might, but it’s very much “we’ll do it another way first” and the consultation will close before any PCCs are elected. As the Guardian’s Alan Travis argues, perhaps this is one where Ken Clarke won out against Theresa May.
Having served three years on Lancashire Probation Board (er, for the avoidance of doubt, that’s a role, not a sentence), I’m aware that past governments, when talking tough about probation, have allied it with law-enforcement services. And having in the past as a police officer had to visit a probation office in plain clothes, lest their ‘customers’ should think they had anything to do with the police, I suspect this is a win for the probation establishment, and a loss for the public.
I agree that these changes pre PCCs are regrettable (just as some other changes are). However I see no less opportunity to influence and help shape the delivery of crime reduction just because the probation area will not be coterminus to the police. In Sussex we already have a Probation trust that covers two police areas, and a Courts service that covers three. All of these will come within my purview as elected Crime Commissioner as far as I am concerned, just as will the Prisons.
Sure – it’s just easier for PCCs to replace Probation Trusts where the geography is the same. This consultation seems to be kicking that into the long grass.