The consultation process has been rather strange. The consultation document, entitled “Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence”, maintained that the government intended to keep the same format of Transforming Rehabilitation with the public sector National Probation Service servicing the courts and managing high risk offenders with the private Community Rehabilitation Companies managing low and medium risk offenders. The main change was the planned reduction in the number of CRCs from 21 to 11, aligned with new NPS divisions.
In the end, Ministers bowed to pressure from the sector (and a succession of critical reports by the Probation Inspectorate, National Audit Office and others) and decided to return all offender management to the NPS.
The announcement did not give much further detail other than:
- The 11 new CRCs will now be known as “innovation partners” and will be directly responsible for providing unpaid work and accredited programmes.
- The NPS will be required to buy all interventions from the market including “resettlment and rehabilitative services”
- Private and voluntary sector organisations will need to register on a dynamic purchasing framework (similar to that used for the recent re-procurement of prison education) in order to provide services to offenders.
- The total annual budget for unpaid work, accredited programmes and these rehabilitative and resettlement services will be up to £280 million per year.
However, it is clear that there remain many details to be worked out. No new operating model was published and the MoJ has provided only a little additional information about what happens next:
- A period of market and stakeholder engagement.
- A commercial competition later this year for providers to bid to provide rehabilitative services.
- Three launch events to discuss the reforms in more depth at the end of May.
I have read the consultation response to find whether there are any more clues to the MoJ’s plans.
There were 476 responses to the consultation, 44% of them from probation professionals, 17% from voluntary sector organisations and 8% from judges and magistrates. Here is how the MoJ has addressed some of respondents’ concerns.
A clearer role for the voluntary sector
The MoJ says that “interventions should be commissioned and delivered locally where possible” and that it wants to see a clearer role for a “wide range of voluntary sector providers”. The MoJ intends to achieve this via a dynamic framework which will operate as an open panel of suppliers, who can be admitted to the panel at any point during its lifetime subject to a qualification process (based on experience and capabilities). Eligible panel members will be invited to participate in mini-competitions for the services required which will be run by the regional directors of the eleven areas (see map below) on either a regional or local level.
Under the current system, CRCs are responsible for preparing all prisoners for release. However, this is set to change:
Consistent with our broader approach to offender management we intend that in future the responsibilities for assessing offenders’ needs; identifying the services required; and coordinating delivery of these services will in future be provided through the NPS; with a much clearer role for private and voluntary sector providers in delivering those interventions and services.
Whether regional directors will commission in-prison resettlement services on a prison-by-prison basis or home area basis is unclear, nor how resettlement will fit with the Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) scheme currently rolled out within the prison service. As far as I can see, there is no indication as to whether the MoJ plans to change (or abolish) the post sentence supervision arrangements which brought another 40,000 short term prisoners under the supervision of the probation service and has contributed to a big increase in the numbers recalled to prison.
The MoJ says it intends to use the new regional structures to “test innovative forms of commissioning to focus on cross-cutting social outcomes that are key to reducing reoffending” — presumably offender accommodation in particular. It intends to ringfence funding within the overall probation budget with the aim of attracting match funding from other government departments or commissioning bodies including social finance providers and Social Impact Bonds.
Rebuilding the probation profession
The consultation responses quotes from Chief Probation Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey who has emphasised the damage to the professional identity of probation staff from the way that TR was implemented, particularly for those working in CRCs. She has advocated an evidence-based probation service delivered by professional staff who are constantly developing their skills.
The MoJ says it intends to further this objective by bringing forward “legislation to implement a statutory professional regulatory framework across the probation system with continual professional development standards and a practise and ethical framework for designated roles. By implementing this framework, we aim to ensure that staff who are suitably qualified are supported in gaining the tools and opportunities for a long and effective career.”
You can keep up with the market engagement events and next steps in the probation redesign process on the MoJ probation consultation website.