THERE WAS uproar at the annual conference of the National Organisation of Probation Officers (NAPO) last week when Home Office minister Paul Boateng spoke to delegates. He started off by trying to assure those attending the conference that they could trust the government's changes in tackling crime. He said, 'I am a socialist minister in a socialist and democratic government. We are not going to tinker about. We have a radical agenda.'
Then he launched into an attack on probation officers' work with offenders who are not condemned to a prison sentence. He said, 'Community service is no longer a soft option. You know only too well the scene outside the court. They say, 'We've got away with it. Thanks a lot.' Another legal aid cheque drops on the mat and the holiday in Florida is assured.'
The delegates began to shout him down, furious that he seemed to be proposing less help for offenders and more tough sentencing. Boateng was enraged. He accused the delegates of 'not living in the real world'. Several delegates walked out during his speech. Those who stayed to question him continued the rough ride.
One delegate got huge applause when he referred to the causes of crime. He asked, 'What about poverty, lack of opportunity and discrimination and despair?' Boateng dismissed all the questions saying, 'I'm not bullshitting you. There is no new money unless you up your game.'
Probation officers have a contradictory role because of their work with police officers. But cuts from Tory and now New Labour governments have left many feeling they have a common fight with other trade unionists against New Labour's attacks.