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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Disappointing outcomes for Peterborough and Doncaster prison PbR pilots

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These are very disappointing results for the MoJ. Normally, there would be an expectation of a high level of performance from pilots with such public exposure where the partners had chosen to participate and, indeed, had championed and driven the initiative from the outset. Therefore, it is an extremely worrying sign for the new private providers of probation whose revenue will be, to an increasing extent, dependent on reducing reoffending rates, that these high-profile pilots are performing so poorly.

Failure to meet payment by results targets

The latest MoJ reoffending stats (published on 30 April 2015) found that overall reoffending rates are pretty constant with the overall one year reoffending rate for all adult and juvenile offenders who were cautioned, convicted or released from custody between July 2012 and June 2013 identical to the previous year at 26.2%.

[Reoffending results always lag at least 21 months behind the period they cover to allow one year for any reoffending, an additional six months for the system to process any re-offences and then about 3-4 months for the data to be analysed and the report produced.]

However, the real interest in the set of figures can be found in Annex A of the report which presents the latest reconviction figures for the reoffending payment by results pilots from Peterborough and Doncaster prisons. These pilots have been high profile since their inception mainly because the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling talked them up constantly as an example of the changes he wanted to achieve through his radical overhaul/privatisation of the probation service, known as Transforming Rehabilitation.

The last set of results, published on 7 August 2014, found mixed results with both prisons exceeding their targets, but Doncaster only doing so by a small margin. This current set of results are much more disappointing.

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Peterborough

The ONE Project sought to reduce the reoffending of short term prisoners released from Peterborough prison by providing them with a range of co-ordinated advice and support services including, in particular, support from trained mentors. The pilot was operated by Social Finance funded via a Social Impact Bond  and operated by a partnership led by St Giles Trust. The target set for the Peterborough pilot was a reduction of 10% in the frequency of reconviction events in each cohort of around 1000 prisoners (calculated by comparison with a match group).

The figures released in this MoJ bulletin relate to the second cohort of released prisoners and measure reconvictions within the six months after release (rather than the usual 12 months). The table below, taken from the report, shows that there was only a small reduction in the frequency of reoffending – an average of 84 reconviction events per 100 offenders in comparison to a national rate of 86 reconvictions.

table 1 Peterborough PbR

Doncaster

The HMP Doncaster model is run by Serco (who hold the contract for operating the prison) in a partnership with Catch 22 and Turning Point which dissolved in early 2014. The target for this pilot was a 5% reduction in the reconviction rate – a binary measure – Serco were required to achieve this target in order to retain the full operating value of their prison contract.

These latest figures show that the reconviction rate for prisoners released from Doncaster actually rose 2.8 percentage points against the previous year to a level that was higher than the national comparison; again the table below is taken directly from the report.

table 2 Doncaster PbR

Conclusion

These are very disappointing results for the MoJ. Normally, there would be an expectation of a high level of performance from pilots with such public exposure where the partners had chosen to participate and, indeed, had championed and driven the initiative from the outset.

It is my experience from being involved in evaluating dozens of criminal justice pilot schemes that the main challenge is typically how to replicate this initial success in any national rollout.

Therefore, it is an extremely worrying sign for the new private providers of probation whose revenue will be, to an increasing extent, dependent on reducing reoffending rates, that these high-profile pilots are performing so poorly.

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12 Responses

  1. Thanks for highlighting Russell. I think the reality is that reducing re-offending rates is hard, though it’s probably important not to take this as a sign that nothing can work. It may be these two areas/ sets of providers haven’t entirely cracked it yet – or perhaps that there is lots of equally good stuff going on elsewhere in the country – or perhaps developments elsewhere (e.g. in relation to housing) are working against providers this year.
    The thing this does prove, of course, is that we should always be sceptical of people who promise the moon on a stick, while encouraging them to give it a go!

  2. Thanks for your comment Tom. The most worrying thing about these poor figures is that these released prisoners were receiving no service at all previously. If you can’t make outperform a non-existing service, then there are serious problems even allowing for a range of other difficulties. The cohorts are small, so the figures could bounce back – and I hope they do.

  3. I fear that ‘payment by results’ will be the death of many small organisations who enter into contracts and who by non-attainment (of unobtainable) targets they will wind-up working (providing services that should be a statutory requirement) for nothing until they are driven into bankruptcy.

  4. The story behind the figures is very relevant. There needs to be a consistently bench-marked and edifiable group of workers who can engage at an ontogenetic level with the service users. Working stats and deciding on the next approach is simply not enough. Without a culture of people who truly understand what their role is there will be no significant impact on reoffending rates.

  5. I was released from Peterborough and got absolutely no assistance from the St Giles Trust it was totally shambolic. I was pretty self sufficient and am educated but one thing lacking was housing upon my release and I didnt care what sort of accommodation was provided but they couldnt even take care of that. They need to be able to provide the basic fundamentals for people being released, instead as usual these schemes always pander to the drug addled prisoners who are the most likely to reoffend and leave those self sufficient to make their own way. The drug addled offenders are a lost cause and need to be looked at by other agencies longer term

  6. Thanks for sharing this, Anon. Housing remains the one basic component that everyone needs and is the one that agencies are least able to provide.

    It might not seem so from your perspective, but many drug dependent people do turn their lives around eventually.

    1. Hi Russell, drug dependent offenders do turn their life around, of that I have no doubt and have seen it myself but this scheme is concentrating on reoffending of those given short terms sentences, in the space of the 6 months I was sentenced to I lost my home, my job and therefore had nothing upon release. If housing was provided in whatever form I would have been fine getting back into my field from a employment perspective (which i have done). My issue is drug dependent prisoners need longer term care and are far more likely to reoffend upon release. For me I would be a quick win for the scheme with just that little bit of support rather than complicated support.

      Totally aware there is a housing shortage and more so in social housing but maybe a percentage could be allocated to these schemes for those that would utilise it to the fullest and not abuse the privilege. Being released with minimal funds and minimal support leads only one way imho, back to where you just came from

  7. Watch the link below to see exactly how the Doncaster youths offender prison is run…. A PHONE INSIDE obviously no checks on the way in or signal blockers

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