The new probation landscape
There are an estimated 1,475 charities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations whose main clients are offenders, ex-offenders and their families in England according to a 2010 Cabinet Office study.
The Centre for Social Justice (a think tank formed by Iain Duncan Smith in 2004) launched a new report, “The new probation landscape”, last week arguing that involvement of this criminal justice voluntary sector was critical to the success of the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation project.
Funded by Capita and NACRO, the report is based on a literature review, a survey of 173 voluntary organisations working in criminal justice and “evidence gathering sessions” with some of these voluntary organisations and those who work with them.
The report makes the usual point about the heterogenous nature of the voluntary sector, with a few large organisations (CRI, Nacro, Catch 22) and a much larger number of smaller organisations.
More than two thirds of the survey respondents (69%) said they had 10 staff or less with almost a quarter (24%) reporting that they had less than the equivalent of one full-time worker.
The CSJ summarises the four key strengths of the criminal justice voluntary sector as:
- Having strong links with local communities.
- Effective at harnessing the power of volunteers.
- A tradition of tailoring support for individual service users.
- A good track record of innovation in service delivery.
To which I would add the ability and motivation to spot and fill gaps in provision.
Voluntary sector views
CSJ asked these voluntary sector organisations whether they thought they would benefit from the Transforming Rehabilitation project.
Unsurprisingly, responses varied according to the size of the organisation.
Just over half (53%) of larger organisations were confident that the probation reforms would benefit their organisation.
Only 15% of medium-sized and 21% of small voluntary organisations were equally confident.
Organisations were also asked their views about working as a subcontractor to large Prime (normally private sector) providers.
CSJ does not break down opinion in this category but records a wide range of views – from confidence and hope that working with Primes would bring organisational benefits (such as access to better IT), to concern that Primes would not share common values, through to mistrust that they would be fair in sharing financial risk and payments.
The recommendations are straightforward and reasonable:
- Primes shouldn’t require small voluntary sector partners to operate on a payment by results model.
- The MoJ should apply strict market stewardship principles (which they have already issued)
- Voluntary sector providers need to demonstrate that their work is effective at reducing reoffending (see the Justice Data Lab)
The report does, however, note one other important issue.
The voluntary sector attributes its success to their independence from government and the fact that offenders are often not compelled by the courts to work with them.
If voluntary providers start delivering court-ordered services, will the special nature of this trust between provider and service user be put at risk?