The latest on the re-design of probation

The government's response to the Justice Committee's concerns about the second re-design of probation is not convincing.

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Last Friday (25 October) the government formally responded to the Justice Committee’s Transforming Rehabilitation follow up report itself published on 19 July.

The purpose of the Justice Committee’s report was to helping ensure a smooth transition to the next model of probation – we are expecting the Target Operating Model sometime in December. The report made recommendations related to staffing, the voluntary sector, Through the Gate (provision for resettling offenders on release from custody), post-release supervision and costs. The Committee also called for greater transparency of funding, “so we can see where funding is going and what impact it is having”. 

Bob Neill, the Conservative MP who chairs the Justice Committee, was clearly not happy with the quality of the government’s response:

“Years of underfunding and the botched Transforming Rehabilitation reforms have left the probation system in a mess. The Government recognises the risk in moving to yet another delivery model, yet this response provides precious little information on how this risk will be managed.
This response says almost nothing about how the probation service is expected to cope, through this transition, with the extra demand and pressure that will inevitably flow from recent announcements about tougher sentences and more police officers. We are just told that the Government is “considering the potential impact of changes to sentencing practice on probation services”.

In its response, the government addresses 10 of the Committee’s 12 recommendations. Interestingly, it declined to respond to the request to supply the per-head cost of offender probation support, saying this “remains under consideration by officials”.

Here are the main pieces of information I gleaned from the government response:

  • The government has made some progress in recruiting new probation staff. The 2018 recruitment campaign resulted in 289 trainee probation officers starting in post on 7 January 2019 and there will be a further 400 trainee probation officers starting in January 2020. Given the national shortage of qualified probation staff, this represents some real, if much-needed, progress.
  • The government has closed down the cross-department Reducing Reoffending Board which was meant to try and tackle such critical issues as the lack of adequate accommodation for prisoners on release. This decision was made so that the government can focus “on its core priority of delivering Brexit”.
  • The government is considering phasing the transition to the new model of probation (which involves the decommissioning of the 21 private Community Rehabilitation Companies and their replacement with 12 Probation Delivery Partners selected via a new procurement competition to be launched in the near future) to mitigate the risks that CRCs will disinvest in current provision.
  • The government has committed to publish a full cost analysis of the first version of Transforming Rehabilitation, but notes that this will not be available until the payment by results data is available, which is two years after the end of the CRC contracts.

It’s not hard to see why the Justice Committee were so underwhelmed.

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