23 Jun Justice in Crisis
The crisis in our Criminal Justice System unleashed by austerity and its partner in crime, privatisation, continues to command the attention of parliamentarians. From arrest and trial to incarceration and rehabilitation, the system is beyond breaking point – with staff, offenders and the general public all paying the price for government failure.
Prison and probation privatisation came under under the spotlight at an Opposition Day debate in May, at which Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon exposed the “perverse incentives created by running prisons for profit”, such as understaffing and overcrowding, which together have led to an average of 47% more assaults in private prisons then public ones, according to research by The Guardian.
Burgon slammed the part-privatisation of probation as “a reckless and costly experiment that has failed to protect the public, fragmenting and damaging an award-winning service”. Pointing out that “serious reoffending has soared, supervision is severely overstretched and hundreds of millions of pounds have been wasted on bailing out a broken system”, he added: “It could well be the current Transport Secretary’s [Chris Graying] most damaging failure – a high bar indeed.”
Three days later, the government announced it was scrapping plans to re-tender contracts with private Community Rehabilitation Companies and that probation services were to be brought back into the public-sector National Probation Service from 2021, a great victory for Napo and all others campaigning for an end to probation privatisation.
The new Prison Education Framework came into effect in April, and it’s already apparent that this is being used by providers as cover for more cuts. Over 170 prison educators at one of the four main providers have been placed at risk of redundancy – a shocking state of affairs when it’s widely acknowledged that education is a central part of the rehabilitative process. MPs have asked parliamentary questions about the extent of the cuts, and will continue to press the government to properly resource this vital sector.
The government at least appears to be listening to police officers, who are demanding proper legal protection when carrying out emergency driving. Currently, actions such as driving down the wrong side of the road when pursuing criminals are against the law, but the government has now pledged to change this after an overwhelming response to its consultation on the subject. The Justice Unions Parliamentary Group will hold ministers to their word and help ensure that this legal loophole is completely closed as a matter of urgency.
The “transformation” of our courts and tribunals system continues, with staff alarmed by new plans to centralise work at a small number of “service centres”. There are widespread fears that faulty, untested technology will not be able to compensate for the massive job cuts already taking place and in the pipeline (with 6,500 fewer HMCTS staff expected by 2023), and supportive parliamentarians will continue to press ministers on the dramatic loss of access to justice, especially for people with learning difficulties, mental health conditions, addictions, disabilities and English as a second language, who are all disproportionately represented among defendants.
Will a new Prime Minister later this month make any difference, or will it take a general election before the 40% cuts to the Ministry of Justice (greater than at any other department) are reversed? We’ll have to wait and see, but in the meantime keep up the political pressure.
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