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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Probation “underfunded, fragile and lacking confidence of courts”

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Public Accounts Committee report highlights "desperately needed improvement to probation services".

There is no longer any disagreement that the government’s plans to re-design and part-privatise the probation service through the Transforming Rehabilitation project has signally failed.

The Chief Inspector of Probation (repeatedly), the National Audit Office (twice) and the Justice Committee have all criticised the split public/private model. On Friday (3 May 2019), the Public Accounts Committee published its third critical report into TR. (You can see an infographic of all the key dates below.)

As well as rehearsing the well-known failures of TR (difficulties in the interface between NPS and CRCs, generally poor CRC performance, particularly resettlement (Through-the-Gate) work and a loss of magistrates’ confidence in community sentences), the report urges the MoJ to decide on a course of action and implement it. Here is the report’s summary in full:

In its haste to rush through its reforms at breakneck speed the Ministry of Justice not only failed to deliver its ‘rehabilitation revolution’ but left probation services underfunded, fragile, and lacking the confidence of the courts. Inexcusably, probation services have been left in a worse position than they were in before the Ministry embarked on its reforms. The Ministry accepts that many aspects of its reforms have not worked, and that services have suffered as a result. Its design of the reforms left Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) too dependent on volumes of work which did not materialise and their exposure to payment by results worsened the subsequent financial pressure. CRCs had insufficient income to cover the cost of basic, good quality probation services, leaving them unable to deliver the innovation promised and vulnerable to outright failure. The Ministry’s attempt to stabilise the contracts, and its decision to terminate them in December 2020—14 months early—will cost the taxpayer an additional £467 million. Mismanagement, risk taking and the lack of properly considered planning has badly let down offenders and there has been no noticeable improvement in the support offered to offenders since these reforms were first implemented, and they have failed to reduce reoffending by as much as expected, with the average number of reoffences committed by each reoffender actually increasing. Through the Gate (TTG) services fail to address needs like stable and suitable accommodation and, in some cases, offenders have been provided with tents and left with no fixed address on release from prison. This will ultimately cost the taxpayer more as costs are shunted elsewhere in the system. The Ministry says it has learned lessons, but it now needs to show that it is putting them into practice and urgently making desperately needed improvements to probation services.

Recommendations

The Public Accounts Committee report makes six recommendations which are reproduced in full below:

  1. The Ministry, Cabinet Office and HM Treasury, should write to us by the end of June 2019 to set out what has been done to strengthen the approval and challenge processes both within the Ministry and at the centre of government in response to failed programmes such as this.
  2. The Ministry should write to the Committee, by the end of June 2019, providing details of its contingency arrangements in the event of further provider failure, and explaining what it is doing to manage this risk as its contracts proceed to termination in December 2020. The Ministry should also provide the Committee with an outline of how it managed the impact of both Working Links and Interserve collapsing into administration.
  3. The Ministry, working with the Reducing Reoffending Board should report back to this Committee, by the end of June 2019, setting out a cross-government strategy to reduce reoffending, and how it will measure whether this is working.
  4. When it announces its new approach, the Ministry should write to the Committee to clearly explain what role it expects VSOs to play in the probation system, and what it will do to ensure this role is being fulfilled successfully. The Ministry should also outline how it intends to improve its provision of specialist services and how it will tailor these services to the specific requirements of those in need of support.
  5. If it persists with this flawed [public/private split] structure, the Ministry should urgently spell out how such a separation of probation service can work effectively and what it will do to address the failings with the current system.
  6. When it announces its new plans, the Ministry should write to this Committee spelling out exactly how its plans to address the failings set out by this Committee and the NAO, and how it will avoid the same mistakes happening again.
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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.

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