More calls for a rehabilitation devolution
Entitled: “Prisons and prevention: giving local areas the power to reduce offending”, the author, Jonathan Clifton (@jp_clifton) argues that there is an inherent flaw in our criminal justice system:
the people who could act to reduce offending have neither the financial power nor the incentive to do so. The reason for this is that many of the services and agencies that could act to reduce offending are organised and controlled at the local level, whereas the budget for prison places is held by central government. The challenge is therefore to “unfreeze” the resources that are locked up in the prison system, and ensure that local services are enabled and incentivised to use those resources to both prevent crime and develop alternatives to custody.
Introducing payment by results
Clifton goes on to argue that currently there are no incentives for local authorities to invest in community resources to help stop people from re-offending – even though reoffending rates for community sentences are much lower than those for short term prisoners whose crimes are often broadly similar.
IPPR recommends devolving criminal justice budgets locally and making local authorities and city mayors responsible for low-level adult offenders, saying that this could lead to major improvements in tackling offending.
The central idea is to devolve budgets to cover the costs of this group of offenders to local authorities, and then charge them for each night that an offender from their area is held in prison. This payment by results approach would unlock resources for local authorities to invest in preventative services and alternatives to custody, as well as giving them a strong financial incentive to do so.
There is one example of a successful PbR scheme in West Yorkshire which resulted in the area significantly reducing the number of “custody nights” among young offenders; interestingly it also operated on the same justice reinvestment model (some of the savings were invested in better local services) which IPPR advocates.
The devolution mechanism in more detail
IPPR sets out the mechanism for devolving these criminal justice budgets in more detail; including a back door abolition of the new private provider-led probation system introduced under the MoJ’s Transforming Rehabilitation initiative:
- City mayors or groups of local authorities, in consortia with their police and crime commissioners (PCCs) should be allowed to bid for control of the custody budget for all offenders who come from within their area and are serving a sentence of less than two years. Ideally, the budget they are given would be set for a period of at least three to four years to facilitate proper planning.
- In return for assuming financial control, the local authority could sign up to a headline target for reducing reoffending in their area. The custody budget they are given could take into account some modest assumptions about savings that will accrue over time, in order to ensure that reductions are made to the overall prison budget.
- In addition to being given a custody budget, the local authority should also be allowed to apply for a small amount of ‘transformation funding’ to enable them to make upfront investments in services and alternatives to custody that will deliver savings further down the line. Central government could, however, retain a right to ‘claw back’ this funding if the anticipated savings to the custody budget are not delivered.
- The local authority would then be charged by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) for the cost of accommodating any of their residents who are sentenced to less than two years in prison. The running costs of a prison place would be covered by an agreed national tariff, based on the full cost of a prison place.
- The local authority would be free to spend any money that remains in their custody budget once prison costs for their residents have been deducted. They should choose to invest these savings in preventative services and/or alternatives to custody.
- The operational management of prisons would remain the responsibility of a central government agency (NOMS) and the funding of offenders sentenced to more than 2 years in prison would also remain at the national level, given that they are higher risk and will have less contact with local services.
- In the longer term, central government should also devolve the funding for probation services for this group of offenders to local authorities (working in consortia with their police and crime commissioners).
It is this last point which for me makes the proposal an interesting concept but impractical in the near future. The split of the probation service into two different agencies – the National Probation Service and 21 CRCs – has already severely disrupted the operation of probation, to introduce a third party would merely introduce further duplication and confusion.
For me, the merit of the proposed IPPR approach would be as a replacement to Transforming Rehabilitation when the initial seven year contracts come to an end; unfortunately this doesn’t happen until 2022.