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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Crossing the probation Rubicon

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The publication of the MoJ's response to Transforming Rehabilitation last Thursday 9 May has made it almost certain that the plans to overhaul the reducing reoffending system will take place. By bringing the timeline even further forward, the Secretary of State has built in 6 months' slippage before next general election. Even if the Labour Party wins the next election, there is no sign that @SadiqKhan would undo the changes.

A critical moment

“The die is cast”, said Julius Caesar as he marched his armies across the Rubicon river to invade Rome.

The publication of the MoJ’s response to Transforming Rehabilitation last Thursday 9 May has made it equally clear that there is no turning back in the government’s plans to overhaul the reducing reoffending system.

By bringing the timeline even further forward with services going live in Autumn 2014, the Secretary of State has built in 6 months’ slippage before next general election.

Even if the Labour Party wins the next election, there is no sign that @SadiqKhan would undo the changes.

It seems that Chris Grayling, like Julius Caesar, has decided on a high-risk approach.

 

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Politics trumps logic

The cogent and constructive critique of the government plans led by the Probation Chiefs’ Association (@ProbationChiefs) and the Probation Association (@ProbationAssoc) aided by the less opportunistic private and voluntary sector providers remains valid.

There  is a very real risk that we will end up with an under-resourced and fragmented system which increases the risk to public safety.

It is also hard to contest the view that it would be more effective to adopt a more measured approach to change which started by allowing probation trusts more flexibility to build on their recent successes in reducing reoffending rates.

However, the plans will go ahead because they are primarily driven  by political aspirations – the Prime Minister’s oft-repeated commitment to open up public services to the private sector “to re-balance the economy”.

On the bright side

There are a number of positives within the MoJ paper which shows that ministers and civil servants have listened and responded to some key concerns.

There can’t be many who work in the criminal justice field who didn’t applaud the emphasis on resettlement prisons – an elusive goal which has been pursued for many years with little success.

The potential gains of a more seamless service in custody and on release are immense.

Most will also be pleased that the number of Contract Package Areas has been increased from 16 to 21 which makes it more realistic both for medium and smaller voluntary sector providers to be involved in provision and for Police and Crime Commissioners to try to ensure some level of co-ordination at a local level.

Five of the seven Probation Trust groupings who are applying to spin out public sector mutuals will also be pleased that the CPAs match their boundaries.

Leicestershire Probation already delivers services beyond its boundaries but Cumbria, Lancashire and Merseyside will need to go back to the drawing board.

 

CPA map

 

On the downside

There remain serious concerns which I feel have not yet been adequately addressed.

Risk

The proposed changes to the way that risk of harm will be managed don’t seem very well worked out.

There remains a fundamental problem that by separating out risk management and service delivery, the new approach builds in duplication and fosters poor co-ordination.

At the very least, the MoJ will have to deliver on its commitment to  “design data sharing systems and IT which support delivery under this system”. 

Sophisticated and secure information sharing systems which are used by all partners will be the minimum required to manage risk.

The pace of change

The speed with which these changes will be implemented is unprecedented and Tom Gash (@TGcrime) of the Institute for Government spells out in detail the risks of this approach.

Essentially, the rehabilitation revolution will introduce a new market, operating under an untested payment mechanism, to deliver services to many more offenders (50,000 extra short term prisoners) with a reduced budget.

Quite a challenge.

Increased prison population

No-one disputes Chris Grayling’s rationale for providing services to short term prisoners.

However, the proposed mandatory supervision is underpinned by sanctions (see below) which will inevitably result in an increase in the prison population.

breach

Still unknown

Some key expected components were missing from the MoJ document; in particular details of the contracting framework.

The likely length of the new contracts is not confirmed although the Prior Information Notice (the first stage in the procurement process) states that the value of the contracts will be £5 – 20 billion “based on a ten year period”.

Nor do we know what proportion of income will be subject to the payment by results approach although Mr Grayling seemed to suggest in his speech to the House of Commons that this will be a factor in the award of contracts with the implication that those organisations who are prepared to risk more on PbR will be more likely to win contracts.

Toby Eccles (@tobyecc) from Social Finance argues that we need many more details about the contracting process and pricing expectations.

I’d certainly like to see a commitment to more transparency in the contract award process.

Current procurement legislation and practice support the idea that all 21 CPAs will be decided independently on their merits.

However, experience suggests that decisions will be made on a political basis with most business going to large private providers, albeit with longer and more diverse supply chains than was originally feared.

What will the future bring?

The proof of the pudding remains, as ever, in the eating.

Will we see:

A diverse range of innovative new approaches to reducing re-offending?

Or

Large contracts to global corporations who offer a cut-price service?

Depending on your perspective, Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon either:

Resulted in a period of 18 years’ violent civil war.

Or

Led to the establishment of the most successful long term European empire under the leadership of Augustus.

I’d very much welcome your comments below on how you see the future turning out.

 

If you’d like to nominate key players to fulfill the roles of Cassius, Brutus, Mark Anthony and, of course, Cleopatra – that would be a bonus.

 

You can keep up with all the latest coverage of the MoJ’s plans at the Scoopit site I curate.

 

 

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All Probation Posts are sponsored by Unilink

With over 20 years’ experience in the criminal justice sector, Unilink is a world leader in probation and community corrections software applications, as well as prisoner self-service, prisoner/case management and prisoner communications. Unilink’s integrated suite of products provide a complete digital solution enabling efficient running of prisons and probation. Underpinned by biometrics it integrates seamlessly to deliver security, efficiency and value – while being proven to help rehabilitate prisoners.

4 Responses

  1. Good summation but no mention of the unlikely ability of prison service to re-organise structure of status of individual prisons. In a crisis it will disrupt much of Graying’s plans.

    I remember confusion caused in 1982 when just two prisoners not from Merseyside or Greater Manchester “neighbourhoods” to Hindley Borstal. Similarly overcrowding in a Midland prison resulted in relocation of mentally ill prisoners, weeks before release, causing impossible tasks for myself & colleagues in the London prison where I was working

  2. Continuing. . . that was just ten years ago.

    The Prison Service needs to be able to relocate thousands of prisoners in emergency and tying up 30 resettlement prisons in areas near to where prisoners live will not allow that and I expect Prison Service professionals will soon be telling Graying of the political and practical consequences of him diminishing the ability of Prisons to be flexible in a crisis.

    1. Was having trouble commenting via my Tablet device.

      Comments from Prison Service professionals have been extremely sparse thus far and a large part of the effective implementation of Grayling’s plans depend on better liaison between prison and probation services and courts.than ever before.

      If we are to have transparency, that much over used, aspiration, much, much more needs to be heard about the doubts and questions that are being directed at MOJ, there has been very little detail.

      When National Standards were first being implemented into Probation about 1991/2 – I was at the Alfred Street Office of Inner London Probation Service where I had one of the very best managers in a 30 year career. However, she was ambitious and a downside was her fawning to any senior official anywhere, a consequence being that a couple of Home Office, handbook writers, came along to our office when they were at the drafting stage of the first National Standards book, they had not got a clue – we were trying to help them see practicalities, but of course they were not probation practitioners.

      I don’t remember the exact point I tried to make, but it was dismissed – because “our focus is on the administrative aspects of the National Standards” – and what was produced was virtually unworkable and a disaster.

      If Grayling is really serious he needs to bring in a team of professional probation, prison and court folk from the front-lines of those trades now, not the good boys and girls who want to please but the ones who ask awkward questions. And he wants to be transparent about it – then he might get some more support from those he will be telling to implement.

      I saw his comments about issuing an order to the prisons to set up 30 resettlement prisons. Obviously he doesn’t realise how hard practitioners have tried to make this go smoothly in the past.

      When I worked in a London Prison between 97 -02 we had the absolute burden of inter service sentence planning – it was a complete bureaucratic disaster – sapping energy and innovation and achieving nothing but frustration and no benefit to prisoners or practitioners, yet it was a constant bone of contention. Issuing such a directive about resettlement prisons is likely to have a similar reaction as thousands of working lives and prison sentences are upended amidst confusion. Then what will happen when there is the first major crisis, like we had in prisons in 1986 or after Strangeways burned. I spoke to prison service practitioners involved in getting us out of those messes both – as reports indicated – consequential on prisoners withdrawing the good will on which the Prison Service depends,hour by hour of every day so they don’t riot when half a wing can’t get a shower once or a week or clean underwear! As a probation officer, one not infrequent application I had was – for toilet paper – and we did not have 88,000 + banged up!

      I had been a probation officer for almost 25 years before I was first seconded to work in a prison – by which time I had visited about half the prisons in England and Wales. My attitudes to what I had felt was helpfulness of prison service colleagues changed completely because of the complexities of their jobs and the things they try to do, with amongstour populations some of the most deranged and difficult and damaged folk.

      What I suggest all Prison and Probation Ministers and Senior MOJ staff do is to go incognito to some of the country’s local prisons and some women’s prisons – not for a day but a week – before another piece of legislation is introduced.

      By the way do they still need to notify SSD’s as a consequence of the 1933 C & YP ACT and what about IG54/94is that still dragging on prison and probation practitioners – some of these laws and regulations need to be made to act smoothly without forms being filled in again and again with name, DOB etc.,, etc. – We are in the computer age where stuff can be swiped and instantly printed – lets get those advantages into prisons and probation before we do anything else.

      AND an IT system accessible at appropriate levels to ALL CJS petitioner agencies – courts, police, CPS, Prisons, MOJ, Interpreters, PROBATION and the voluntary agencies they are in contract as well as the private agencies, who I believe on moral grounds should be no part of any state CJS process, whether that be issuing parking tickets or running a prison!

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