Making the Most of the Opportunity
This is a guest post by Mike Trace, Chief Executive of the Forward Trust.
Now the MOJ has, quite rightly, taken the decision to reshape the CRC contracts, it is important to focus on what will deliver on the government objectives, rather than simply tinker around the edges of a model that most of us have seen as systemically flawed from the start.
Some of these objectives are procedural – how to ensure that community orders and post-release licences are properly supervised; how to improve reporting to court in a way that maximises opportunities for, and confidence in, community based interventions as alternatives to custody; and how to improve the continuity of management of offenders as they pass through custody suites, prisons and their home areas.
The current process of consultation and review needs to lead to a procurement specification that clearly sets out minimum standards, while allowing bidders to find creative ways to serve the courts better.
More ambition in reducing reoffending
But the objective that really matters is the outcome – reducing reoffending. Chris Grayling’s TR reforms claimed to have this objective at its centre, but as the bidding process became more complex and bureaucratic, and the delivery phase mired in legal and financial difficulties, too little attention has been focussed on the ambition to work with offenders to turn them away from criminal lifestyles.
The sector has for decades debated how ambitious we can be in turning offenders lives around, but our experience at Forward Trust (formerly RAPt and Blue Sky) is that large numbers of prolific offenders, even with histories of drug/alcohol dependency and mental health issues, can be helped to turn away from offending behaviour, and we have proved it through independent outcome research.
The dilemma is that the evidence base shows that these reductions in reoffending are achieved through properly structured interventions, not case management alone. High quality offender management can affect many aspects of an offender’s life, and can serve the courts well, but there is no evidence that it alone can achieve big reductions in reoffending – any design of the system that does not facilitate much greater use of structured interventions (drug/alcohol recovery; mental health treatment; employment, housing or family programmes) can not claim to be ambitious in terms of reducing reoffending.
And a word on the Through the Gate aspects of TR – the objective here was to bring some coherence to the management of offenders needs and interventions in custody, and their smooth transition into contact with relevant support agencies on release. The failure to get anywhere near that objective has been blamed on inadequate resources – the MOJ’s emergency allocation of an extra £22 million for the existing model indicates that this is their view. But the original model is itself flawed, and I would urge the MOJ to do some careful consultation and planning on how best to integrate the multiple prison based interventions into a coherent offender management pathway. Please don’t pour more money into creating more competing processes.
A second chance
The review of TR is necessary for largely negative reasons, but presents the latest opportunity to realise the potential to make a step change in the number of offenders lives turned around, and the number of victims of repeat offending. Please can we keep this one simple, and direct the available resources at activities that actually achieve the objective.