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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Shining a light on the potential of Payment by Results

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It’s indicative of the high level of interest in payment by results that last night’s seminar at the Academy for Justice Commissioning attracted a full house who stayed till the end  despite a light breaking through the Ministry of Justice conference suite ceiling where it remained, dangling over the MC’s head, for the duration of the event.

The presentation focused on the design, financing and operation of the ONE Service, the PbR scheme which seeks to reintegrate short term prisoners released from HMP Peterborough into the community without reoffending. The speakers were:

Despite most of the audience being very well versed in Social Impact Bonds and the service model operated by the ONE Project, the seminar still succeeded in being interesting.

There was of course the inevitable debate on whether reoffending outcomes should be measured on a binary – has someone re-offended? – or frequency – has someone re-offended less than predicted? – basis that has been covered at length in this Blog.

More interesting were Roger Hill’s thoughts on the challenge for prisons of being paid on re-offending rates when their primary focus has always been to produce good prisoners rather than good citizens. I know from my experience advising the Home Office on the development of prison-based drug treatment Counselling, Assessment , Referral, Advice and Throughcare (CARAT) teams in the late 1990s what a cultural challenge it was for prisons to think about life outside the prison gate, let alone spend resources there.

The PbR scheme at HMP Doncaster  where the private contractor, Serco, in partnership with @TurningPointUK and @Catch22Charity run another resettlement scheme has advantages over the Peterborough scheme because the prison needs to reduce re-offending rates by 5% to keep its contract (and can gain bonus payments if it reduces them more substantially).

The contract for Sodexo at HMP Peterborough is not based on PbR but is monitored via a set of targets all focused on the internal operation of the prison. Indeed the contractual requirements on data protection actually make it very difficult for St Giles staff who cannot transport case files in and out of the prison.

If PbR resettlement schemes become the norm, with all prisons’ performance measured by their success in bringing re-offending rates down, there would be tremendous benefits in directing their entire focus on the rehabilitation rather than the warehousing of prisoners.

Another topic of interest was just how pivotal a role the peer advisers play in the Peterborough scheme. Peer advisers are prisoners trained by St Giles Trust to NVQ Level 3 to support and encourage short term prisoners on the ONE scheme. It is this peer approach  which is largely responsible for over 90% of eligible prisoners signing up for the ONE Scheme despite the average stay inside of only seven weeks.

The final point of interest was the consensus in the room about the challenges of working with short term prisoners. On the one hand, there was agreement that this group, with a history of repeat offending and multiple problems, were a very challenging group to worth with – not least because of their worsening accommodation and employment prospects in the current economic environment. However, most of the audience also felt that organisations working with them had the great advantage of not being restricted by the bureaucratic compliance arrangements that went with working with longer term prisoners who were subject to statutory supervision.

It did make me think that the probation and police services have a great case to argue that their Integrated Offender Management schemes – which typically include short term prisoners – should be funded on a PbR basis. At present, IOM schemes have to function in the absence of any dedicated funding stream.

 

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