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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Re-engaging the voluntary sector in working with probation

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Fifth in my series responding to the MoJ's consultation on the future of probation, commissioning resettlement services.

Commissioning rehabilitative services

This is the fifth in a series of posts exploring the Ministry of Justice’s plans to re-design its Transforming Rehabilitation project. The MoJ says it wants our views on how best to re-design probation and asks 17 key questions in its consultation document, “Strengthening probation, building confidence”.

This week’s post examines three more questions with the aim of highlighting key concerns and, I hope, of promoting positive ideas about how the MoJ can design a better probation service. The question numbers refer to their numbering in the consultation document, so this week’s post starts with question 13.

Please do take issue with me and set out your views and thoughts in the comments section below.

Question 13: How can probation providers effectively secure access to the range of rehabilitation services they require for offenders, and how can key local partners contribute to achieving this?

In the current model of TR, CRCs are intended to take the lead in developing and delivering rehabilitation and resettlement services. They are responsible for creating supply chains of local providers who deliver specialist services to reduce reoffending, which the NPS and other potential commissioners (such as PCCs) can also access through the ‘rate card’. The rate card sets out the services each CRC has available and the unit cost to purchase them.

However, most CRCs have struggled to invest in the development of their supply chains. Often they have resorted to delivering services themselves, which has had implications for the range of services they have been able to make available through the rate card. As a result, we have seen much lower than expected use of rate card services by the NPS, and instead the NPS has also chosen to deliver services themselves or rely on access to existing local or universal services to support offenders’ needs. We have heard, too, from PCCs about the difficulties they have experienced with the rate card, and that the mechanism is not appropriate for making substantial investments in services, where they would run an open competition and require potential providers to bid for the work.

In its consultation document, the MoJ says it aims “to aims to promote a more collaborative approach to the design and delivery of the wider services which are key to supporting an offender’s rehabilitation and resettlement.” For reasons unclear to me, it thinks that the change to 10 NPS/CRC areas and the appointment of an HMPPS senior manager in each of these 10 regions will aid this process. The root of my confusion is the MoJ’s use of the word local to describe the new probation regions. With one or two exceptions, the new regions are large and comprise several (as many as seven) PCCs and many more councils, Health and Wellbeing Boards and other commissioning bodies.

Question 14: How can we better engage voluntary sector providers in the design and delivery of rehabilitation and resettlement services for offenders in the community?

One of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s big selling points for the original version of Transforming Rehabilitation was more involvement of the voluntary sector in working with offenders on supervision. As has been very widely documented, this never came to pass, with many charities pushed out of paid work with offenders.

One of the stated aims of the latest re-design of probation is to reverse this process and re-involve the voluntary sector in partnership work with the probation service:

In shaping future arrangements, we want to be much clearer about the services probation providers are required to deliver, where they may seek to commission services from others (including the voluntary sector) to augment a service offer for offenders, and where they should be seeking to influence the delivery of other local services to make sure there is appropriate access for the individuals they are working with. By ensuring there is increased clarity about these roles and responsibilities, we will look to create greater opportunities for collaboration with statutory and voluntary sector partners to co-design and co-commission the wider suite of services necessary to support rehabilitation.

The MoJ sets out one approach to foster the re-involvement of the voluntary sector which involves setting up separate frameworks or a dynamic purchasing system at a national or regional level for the provision of rehabilitative services, such as accommodation support or provision of specific services for vulnerable groups. The purpose of this approach would be to allow voluntary sector providers who meet specified criteria to make their services available directly to probation providers or other commissioners without having to participate in a separate procurement process each time, similar to the new system which enables prison governors to locally commission education services.

Whether this approach would make any difference to the large number of small local organisations with expertise in working with offenders is questionable. 

However, I find alternatives hard to come by. In the original TR competition the MoJ made it clear that it expected winning bidders to develop substantial supply chains of small expert third sector providers, but then neither provided the funds to do so, nor held CRCs to account for failing to comply with this requirement.

Question 15: How can we support greater engagement between PCCs and probation providers, including increased co-commissioning of services?

Again, my first response to this question is the rather obvious and unhelpful:

“If you want more engagement with PCCs, why move from 21 CRCs (typically co-terminous with 1, 2 or 3 PCCs areas) to ten CRCs where there are as many as seven PCCs in every contract area?”

The argument for a closer relationship between Police and Crime Commissioners and probation is a no-brainer, particularly as PCCs have become increasingly pivotal to the co-ordination of local justice systems. PCCs have increasingly led strategic approaches to prolific offenders, women offenders and, of course, victims’ services.

The MoJ is positive about devolving justice services in London and Greater Manchester but does not seem to have any clear levers in mind to achieve closer working relationships in the rest of England.

Central to many of these issues is a long-standing theme with which the MoJ has struggled for many years; how can it foster local solutions to local problems while maintaining centralised control over a national system of justice? One obvious way would be to move some of the CRC funding to PCCs, although this would be a tricky balancing act if the MoJ want to ensure plenty of interest in the second  TR competition.

I’ll return to this issue in the last blog in this series next Thursday. 

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All Probation Posts are sponsored by Unilink

With over 20 years’ experience in the criminal justice sector, Unilink is a world leader in probation and community corrections software applications, as well as prisoner self-service, prisoner/case management and prisoner communications. Unilink’s integrated suite of products provide a complete digital solution enabling efficient running of prisons and probation. Underpinned by biometrics it integrates seamlessly to deliver security, efficiency and value – while being proven to help rehabilitate prisoners.

One Response

  1. Quesiton 14. Voluntary provision means the local business or individuals provide their services for free. That is there are 0 costs to the Probation Trust(apart from their duty to manage the provision of voluntary services).

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