The probation service in England and Wales: A decade of radical change or more of the same?
This article reviews developments in probation in England and Wales since 2010, a decade in which services were exposed to the logic of competition and profit. In 2014, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government’s Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) reforms promised an end to a top-down, target-centric culture of state intervention by outsourcing services for low-to-medium risk offenders to 21 privately-owned Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). And yet, just four years after the reforms were implemented, the Conservative government announced that CRCs’ contracts would be terminated, with all offender management services returned to the public sector. With a focus on the private sector, the article argues that radical change to the probation service’s structure has entrenched a focus on centrally-administered performance targets and audit. In other words, contrary to the decentralising rhetoric at the core of TR, the decade has in many ways produced more of the same managerialism that the reforms were presented as a means to displace. The result has been a general decline in the quality of probation services.