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Payment by results and the probation service: my rehabilitation revolution

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The deadline for responding to the Ministry of Justice consultation on the future of the Probation Service is tomorrow, 22nd February 2013.

I finally got around to submitting my own response:

My rehabilitation revolution

I didn’t respond to the MoJ’s list of questions but set about answering what to me was the key challenge:

How do we cut re-offending rates?

I have focused on the two key drivers that the MoJ wants to use – a payment by results commissioning process and opening up the probation service to competition.

You will see that I’ve made liberal use of other people’s ideas which I have tried to credit along the way.

A long term process

I agree with Toby Eccles of Social Finance that successful PbR schemes need to be carefully developed over time.

There is no doubt in my mind that it’s possible to substantially reduce reoffending rates.

The key to this is to introduce innovation while building on the very real successes of the last 10 years.

In my view, local commissioning is essential to preserve local partnerships, particularly IOM (Integrated Offender Management) schemes developed painstakingly over many years.

Stage One: 2013/14

The first stage of my plan involves increasing the number of probation trusts from 35 to 42 so that they align with police force/Police and Crime Commissioner boundaries.

I would also use this first year to get NOMS to draw up PbR contracts for these 42 trusts with the outcome of reducing re-offending using the current MoJ measures which gives us a reasonable baseline against which to judge performance.

Stage Two: 2014/15 – 2018/19

The 42 probation trusts will operate under a PbR contract for a four-year period.

Although performance will be measured against the re-offending targets, all payment will be made up front with no deferred payments based on results.

However, there will be a sizeable incentive.

The 21 best performing trusts at the end of 2017/18 will have their contracts renewed for a five-year period from April 2019.

This will enable them to invest in long-term strategies to further reduce reoffending – it will also enable them to contract with voluntary organisations on a long-term basis, bringing some much-needed stability to the sector.

NOMS will be responsible for two major pieces of work during Stage Two:


time to plan


Stewarding the market

NOMS will be required to involve key stakeholders from the public, private and voluntary sectors in an open and ongoing exchange of views to design the framework for five-year PbR contracts starting in 2019.

The framework will have two key objectives: promoting innovation and reducing re-offending rates.

Due consideration will be given to using the “accelerator” model of relating payments to harder to achieve targets as developed by Jane Mansour and Ian Mulheirn for the predecessor to the work programme and also recommended by Policy Exchange in their recent paper.

In simple terms, the accelerator model means that providers receive a larger payment for reducing the re-offending of a more persistent, prolific offender.

NOMS will be expected to encourage a range of different models (including Restorative Justice) to be delivered by a range of different providers including public-private partnerships, voluntary sector led consortia, social enterprises and mutualised probation services.

This culture of learning and information exchange will be suspended from April 2018 in recognition of the fact that stakeholders will then be effectively in competition, but will be restored after the procurement process is complete.

Rationalising the prison estate

NOMS will also be required to rationalise the prison estate so that each probation/police area is matched with a maximum of five prison establishments (with an acknowledgement that the this arrangement will not be fully possible for women and Category A prisoners) with the expectation that at least 80% of offenders from each area will be remanded to, serve their sentences in, and be released from these five prisons.

Considerable progress was made towards this goal in recent years until it was derailed by the sudden increase in the use of custody after the 2011 riots and the prison closures announced in January this year.

So the prison-probation pairing programme may not be as difficult to achieve as it has historically appeared.

From April 2017, Police and Crime Commissioners (who will have been elected in May 2016) will become responsible for commissioning all reducing re-offending work (prison and community based) on a local basis. Reform Think Tank encouraged expanding the role of PCCs in a report published in October 2012.

Legislation will also be passed to enable probation trusts to operate in a more business-like fashion.

In particular, they will be allowed to carry forward unused funds into subsequent financial years and to hold in reserve an amount that is capped at 20% of their annual income.

Stage Three: 2019/20 – 2023/24

PCCs will commission end-to-end reducing re-offending services which will cover offenders in the community, in prison and on release, using the National PbR framework designed by NOMS to achieve outcomes which are set on the basis of local need.

Even at this point, the proportion of contract paid on a PbR basis will be relatively small in order to be fair to new providers entering the market in 2019.

I envisage 4% PbR in Year One rising to 20% in Year Five.

Again, in order to have a stable justice system which improves performance over time, the top 21 performing organisations (or all those who have reduced re-offending by a full percentage point, whichever is the greater number) will have their contracts renewed in March 2023 for a further five-year period starting in April 2024.

In my view, these are ambitious targets when you factor in that every year providers will have had to deliver better outcomes within a budget that has steadily reduced under ongoing public spending cuts.

Your verdict

Of course, my proposals are politically naive and rely on a hard-to-imagine long-term cross-party alliance that focuses on effective justice policy instead of a competition to be seen as the toughest on crime.

Nevertheless, I’d really appreciate it if you could find the time to comment below on which aspects of this outline plan you think are either workable or fatally flawed.


If you are interested in the future of the probation service, you might like to check out the more than 200 online articles that I have curated since the original white paper in March 2012:



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