Keep up-to-date with drugs and crime

The latest research, policy, practice and opinion on our criminal justice and drug & alcohol treatment systems

PbR Freakonomics or Prison-Probation Collaboretition

Share This Post

The authors of Freakonomics keep me consistently entertained with their books and Blog posts about the way people, in all walks of life, respond to incentives – commonly in unpredictable ways, frequently with unintended consequences.

Their latest book, SuperFreakonomics, covers everything from why drunk walking is more dangerous than drunk driving to why suicide bombers should buy life insurance and I recommend it unreservedly for an entertaining, and thought-provoking read.

I’m particularly drawn to these books because one of the abiding fascinations of my work is the challenge of disentangling and understanding complex systems which often result in perverse and unintended consequences. My specialism is in the construction and evaluation of multi-agency partnerships designed to tackle drugs and/or crime problems. Frequently I find that small scale successful pilot schemes fail when they are replicated on a larger basis. This typically happens when agencies’ genuine commitment to work together is undone by differences in professional culture or the need to meet conflicting organisational targets. Getting a precise understanding of just how and why the model doesn’t work is key to rectifying the situation.

There is a wealth of research literature which documents the challenges of policing illegal drug markets. Drug markets are notoriously adaptable and law enforcement agencies need to weigh up the pros and cons of different approaches. Local communities were delighted when open street markets were closed down. Unfortunately, so were the next generation of drug dealers who learnt to organise business via mobile phone and ensure that young runners carried the drugs and cash (separately) – as well as almost all the risk of being arrested.

The subject matter of perverse consequences is one of the reasons that first attracted me to the area of Payment by Results. Even at this early stage of the various pilot schemes (for a full list see here), with outcomes still to be determined, much of the debate features on preventing providers from “gaming” the system by “cherry picking” the easy cases and “parking” the more difficult ones. The fundamental challenge of PbR is to come up with schemes which align the objectives of commissioners and providers.

I have argued before that the collaboration and effective partnerships required to deliver multi-million pound PbR schemes are likely to be even more difficult to achieve in what is becoming an increasingly competitive culture. I like to call this particular phenomenon“Collaboretition”, a phrase coined by Benita Matofska of @peoplewhoshare.

There was a spectacular example of “Collaboretition” last week when the governor of three South Yorkshire prisons locked out all the prison probation staff when he found out that their Probation Trust had gone into partnership with G4S and were intending to bid to run the prisons which were being put out to tender. The governor claimed that probation staff could be gaining an unfair competitive advantage through their knowledge of  current practices and access to confidential information.

Much of the ensuing debate, which was unsurprisingly polarised along the lines of “competition is good” versus “privatisation is bad”, failed to mention that the prison service itself had developed a partnership with Mitie to submit a bid of their own.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, by seeking to develop a further business opportunity, South Yorkshire Probation Trust had unintentionally jeopardised their current work – a prime example of an unintended consequence.

My own interest in the political, social and economic fall-out from this situation is somewhat tainted by the knowledge that the prisoners in these three jails are no longer receiving any of the services which were provided by probation staff. If anyone anyone has any updates on the South Yorkshire situation, please let us know below.

The other reason that I’m drawn to the work of the Freakonomics team is that the two authors, Dubner (the journalist) and Levitt (the academic economist) work so well in partnership. When the publishers offered the two of them a book deal, they both insisted on a 60-40 split – with the other guy getting the 60%.

That’s the spirit of partnership.

Share This Post

Related posts

PbR jargon demystified (2) G-L

Second in a series of infographics which demystify the jargon and technical terms associated with the payment by results commissioning model.

Payment by Results
Designing payment by results schemes (NAO 4)

The NAO cautions that in designing PbR schemes, commissioners need to get the balance between pure PbR and non PbR payments right. Where a scheme is financed by a Social Impact Bond, it may be possible – and indeed appropriate – to stipulate that 100% income is dependent on achieving the specified outcomes.

On Probation
Paying for the wrong results?

The MoJ published their initial payment mechanism for the Transforming Rehabilitation contracts back on 3rd June and asked for feedback. They are currently developing a final version which should be published before the procurement process starts – scheduled for 23rd August. Last week, the Social Market Foundation published a paper by its director Ian Mulheirn which analysed the payment mechanism in forensic detail and came up with the devastating conclusion that : The payment mechanism encourages providers to cut spending on services and allow reoffending to drift marginally upwards.

What is the state of the reducing reoffending market?

The IfG makes two very critical findings of the current commissioning of reducing reoffending services. Firstly, local commissioning is ineffective in most areas. Seondly, neither NOMS nor Probation Trusts has a systematic way of knowing whether commissioned services are effective.

Payment by Results
The 9th Commandment of Payment by Results: Thou shalt join up commissioning

If successful recovery from addiction can only be achieved by a coordinated approach across the health, drug treatment, criminal justice, housing, social care and ETE (employment, training and education) sectors, which government departments should pay for which outcomes? Ideally the Ministry of Justice, Department of Health, DWP and Supporting People should all contribute to a pooled budget. But of course that’s not the way that departmental budgets work – indeed, there’s evidence that, despite the Community Budgets initiative – departmentalitis has actually got worse over recent years in the face of largescale and repeated cuts in expenditure.

Payment by Results
The 6th Commandment of Payment by Results: Profit shall not be thy God

One of the most controversial aspects of payment by results in the UK has been the way the funding model has been used to outsource public services and open the market up to private providers, typically the sort of global companies who deliver the Work Programme. Many people are opposed in principle to the idea of public services generating profit for multinationals. On the other side of the argument are those that see the introduction of business sense and commercial acumen as a key way of reducing cost and driving innovation. But is financial profit the only measure of success?

2 Responses

  1. I concur completely with your closing statement Russel. I would be interested to know if there are PSOs (or PSIs) that govern the provision of probation related services within the prison, in which case surely the governor would be contravening them?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Get every blog post by email for free