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Biometrics technology to replace some UK probation officers


UK private probation operator Sodexo unveiled plans to introduce biometrics reporting kiosks for offenders to report in without having to physically meet with a probation officer, as part of a broader plan to reduce operational costs related to large-scale redundancies, according to a report by the Guardian.

Sodexo, which operates six of the 21 newly privatized community rehabilitation companies in England and Wales, follows in the footsteps of several American jurisdictions that are currently using biometric reporting.

The kiosks use fingerprint recognition technology to confirm the identities of offenders and allow them to report in, to provide and receive information, and to request a face-to-face meeting with a probation officer.

Use of the biometric kiosks will be provided as a reward to those offenders who have achieved good compliance with the early stages of their supervision order or prison release licence.

Sodexo will also implement a single, centralized administrative hub that enables operational staff to conduct face-to-face meetings with low-risk offenders via a call center, despite the majority of serious further offences being committed by offenders categorised as low-to-medium risk.

In an email sent to employees on Friday, Martin Graham, CEO of the Sodexo CRC covering Norfolk and Suffolk, said they can expect to see a 34% staffing reduction.

“I’m sure many of you will be shocked by such a figure but you need to remember that this figure is dependent on being able to deliver all the efficiency savings,” Graham wrote. “Whatever the final agreed figures, however, it is clear that we will need to make significant staff reductions over the next weeks and months. Some of these will probably have to be compulsory redundancies.”

The total number of job losses for Sodexo is expected to hit the 700-plus mark.

In a limited pilot program which tested biometrics reporting kiosks in one area of London, two of the three kiosks purchased successfully functioned and only one has worked consistently, with a very low take-up rate.

According to Pat Waterman, chair of probation workers’ union NAPO’s Greater London Branch, the kiosks were found to be extremely unreliable and expensive.

It concluded that savings across London from probation staff time would amount to roughly £49,000, but would be greatly overshadowed by deployment costs of £500,000, said Waterman.

Many have criticized Sodexo’s plans to use the biometric reporting kiosks as a substitute for skilled staff, including Labour’s shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan.

“Tory and Lib Dem ministers promised a rehabilitation revolution but this looks like supervision of dangerous and violent offenders on the cheap,” said Khan. “Sacking experienced and dedicated probation staff and replacing them with machines and call centers goes against everything we know that makes a difference in cutting re-offending. This is exactly why experts, probation staff and Labour warned the government’s reckless and half-baked privatisation would put public safety at risk,” he said.

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