Privatising Rehabilitation?

May 20, 2010

Like most political anoraks across the country, I’ve glanced over the Coalition Programme today, in an attempt to see the shape of legislation over the next five years. One paragraph in particular in the Justice section has attracted my attention:

“We will introduce a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ that will pay independent providers to reduce reoffending, paid for by the savings this new approach will generate within the criminal justice system.”

Like many of the pledges in programme (excluding those involving badgers), it’s a little sparse on detail. However, it’s fairly easy to anticipate the form that this will take. External contractors will be able to bid for contracts for services designed to reduce reoffending rates. It’s analogous to A4e’s work with the unemployed: ex-cons will be put through rehabilitation programmes organised by private sector companies, who’ll be paid depending on how many reoffend.

It’s the logical extension of A4e, and a welcome extension of the unemployment metaphor into the area of rehabilitation, recognising that under certain economic circumstances it makes sense to commit crimes. However, depending on how it’s implemented there’s a strong chance of it being a plan with a negative impact upon civil liberties. Put simply, if a company is incentivised to reduce the reoffending rates of the ex-cons put onto its books, it can either do that via training and activities designed to improve the life chances of those ex-cons, or by monitoring the behaviour of those ex-cons and intervening to prevent re-offending.

The cost effectiveness of each approach will depend on the ex-con involved, but I can see situations in which this would incentivise provider companies to lobby for increased powers to monitor their charges. Having just heard Clegg talk about a Great Repeal Act that removes the power of local authorities to spy on their citizens, it would be a great shame if we had to take up a similar campaign against the private sector too.

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