Last Friday (19 July 2019), the House of Commons Justice Committee published a short follow-up report on Transforming Rehabilitation with the aim of helping ensuring a smooth transition to the next model of probation.
The report makes 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 calls for greater transparency of funding, “so we can see where funding is going and what impact it is having”.
This blog post highlights the key recommendations in the report.
The Committee pays tribute to “the dedicated hard work of the probation profession over the past few years” and acknowledges the stress that the TR changes have (and will) inflict ion them.
The Committee is pushing ministers of probation staff recruitment and endorses the idea of a professional register:
We support the principle of an independent statutory register for probation professionals, since it is important to raise the status of the probation profession. It is important to consult widely on this, including with the unions, and we look forward to scrutinising the detailed proposals. We recommend that the necessary legislation to introduce a statutory register for probation professionals be introduced as soon as possible, and certainly within the next Queen’s Speech at the very latest.
The Committee is keen that in the next iteration of TR, the MoJ fulfils its promises to involve more voluntary sector providers:
It is vital that the new system should be organised and funded in such a way that the involvement of the voluntary sector is protected and encouraged. We should be able to measure this. The Government should develop a detailed evaluation strategy to ensure that it measures the impact of its new probation policy on the voluntary sector from 2020 in Wales and 2021 in England. This should include establishing the current baseline, to order to measure change. From the start of 2022, the Government should publish transparent figures setting out how much probation funding flows to the voluntary and private sector (including through sub-contracting), and to whom.
Transparency of funding
The Committee is clearly not happy with not being able to get a clear picture of probation funding, particularly in relation to the private Community Rehabilitation Companies:
There is an unacceptable lack of transparency about the reasons for individual spending decisions. For example, when he appeared in front of us, the Minister was not able to explain the Ministerial Direction, made four weeks before, to make payments to CRC subcontractors, against the advice of the MOJ Permanent Secretary in his role as departmental Accounting Officer. Ministerial Directions are rare—it was nine years since the Secretary of State for Justice last issued one.
When the period with the current CRCs has been finalised and completed, the MOJ should publish a cost analysis, setting out the spend on CRCs and the changes for the lifetime of the CRC contracts. We also note that HMPPS publishes a cost per prisoner per year; the MOJ should consider publishing per-head costs of offender probation support, broken down by CRCs and the NPS.
This last recommendation — that we should get a proper indication of how much both public and private probation sectors are spending on a per person supervised basis — is something that many of us have been frustrated by over the past five years. It will be interesting to see whether the MoJ accepts the challenge.