Well it didn't take long for the new government to consider how the soft old probation service might benefit from a bit of military discipline did it? The funny thing is we've been here before. Remember 'boot camps'? (the 'short, sharp shock') - I think that was Willie Whitelaw - the whole thing was a huge success with the young inmates in Young Offender Institutions where it was trialled and I can confirm that they absolutely lapped up the military-style discipline. Boy did they turn out a hell of a lot fitter on release, the trouble being not much work had been undertaken on the attitude side of things. The whole idea withered away quite quickly on two grounds, firstly they were not supposed to enjoy it and secondly, turning out super fit, testosterone-fuelled thugs wasn't felt to be such a good idea after all.
You see it was yet another example of the politicians and Home Office people thinking they knew better than the professionals involved. They probably didn't realise that many of our young clients would love to join the army, if only their offending career hadn't already precluded it in most cases. I'm probably that much of an old-fashioned probation officer to admit that, in the absence of a fully effective Youth Service, National Service would indeed be hugely beneficial for some of our clientele today. I know I was absolutely fascinated by the tv series 'Bad Lads Army' some years ago and the life-changing effect it had on many of the participants, some of whom did indeed join up as a direct result. I am aware that in fairly recent times the military have been so desperate for recruits that they used to do a 'sweep' of YOI's now and then to see if there were any suitable candidates. I suspect they don't anymore. Nothing has given me greater pleasure on occasion than to speak directly with recruiting officers and to be able to give support to young offenders applications for the armed services.
Do we remember how, with the ending of the Cold War, Michael Howard I think it was suggested that as part of the 'peace dividend' demobbed soldiers might make good probation officers? Like a lot of politicians, he probably came up with the idea to win a good headline in the Daily Mail. The plan went nowhere, apart that is in his decision to remove the CQSW requirement that had been mandatory for all new probation officers. Again, the funny thing about this episode was that up to that point virtually all probation officers, including myself, turned to the vocation later in life and from a huge variety of backgrounds, including the military. That wealth of life experience, together with excellent social work training, ensured that for many years the service was a confident, innovating, flexible and immensely rewarding place to be.
So that brings us to the here and now and once more there is a call for military action - but this time not just to 'beef up' community service, but as a cost-saving measure as the government feel ex-squaddies will be happy to work for less pay than current CS supervisors. As widely expected, the government intend to privatise this aspect of the probation service and have already lined up three companies to bid for the work. Louise Casey must be very pleased with herself indeed.