One of the parts of the public sector which attracts not enough attention is the probation service, which does a hugely important job. From the Ashford office of the Kent Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company, which does probation work here, there are 193 service users. Most are serving community services, but a quarter are on licence after prison, and around a tenth are in custody.
One of the key purposes of the whole criminal justice system is to get offenders off the wrong course and on to the right track in their life. We all benefit from that. Although in many parts of the country the performance of the Community Rehabilitation Companies has been sub-standard, locally we have one of the best.
The breakdown of those needing rehabilitation is instructive. More than four out of five are men. As for the age profile, that will come as a surprise to those who think young men in their teens and twenties are the worst problem. More than half of cases at the Ashford office are people between the ages of 30 and 39. The under-21s are only 6.5% of the caseload.
One interesting initiative started by the company is a programme to prevent stalking. This is the only one in the UK, and is based on an American experiment which has persuaded stalkers to give up this horrible activity. They are also starting a research unit to look internationally at what works in persuading people on to the right path, to the benefit of all of us.
The police and prisons are always high-profile. But the work of probation officers is vital in relieving the pressure on all parts of the criminal justice system. At a time when many people express worries to me about anti-social behaviour and drug problems, the unsung work of the Community Rehabilitation Company is more important than ever.