The week ahead looks an interesting one when hopefully more detail about the proposals to transform rehabilitation will emerge through the engagement events that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) are hosting. These are important events. There is undoubtedly a heartfelt commitment in both the MoJ and the Cabinet Office to ensure the sustainability of the Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Sector, but this is no time for complacency and sentiment will not be enough. The overwhelming weight of evidence about national commissioning and procurement is that it’s a challenging process, especially in its first wave of implementation. So while there may be general lessons to be learnt from the Work Programme, we in the Sector have to continue to ensure the details of payments; referral mechanisms; contract variation; measures of success and attribution (to name a few) remain at the top of our agenda in the weeks ahead if this new order is going to work for us and in turn our communities.However, while the excitement and scepticism about the future of probation and re-offending rates grow in equal measure, other important questions get little attention. For example, how are services for offenders who remain under the management of the National Probation Service going to be commissioned? These will be high risk offenders (and probably of much more concern to the public than anything else being currently debated) but little has been said about their rehabilitation needs. Also, what of the complicated process that will arise when an individual moves from low to high risk? What will happen to their package of support – will it transfer with them or will their return to a different supervision provider require a different range of support providers? This might well be detail in the overwhelming scale of reform, but the success of detail is what will make this work and give the public confidence, so this is not a time to turn our back on detail. Perhaps an even bigger issue is the future of VCSE arrangements within custodial settings. The Transforming Rehabilitation paper certainly acknowledges this is an issue and addresses potential difficulties by referring to resettlement prisons and the need for new providers to integrate existing resettlement initiatives into their delivery plans. Clearly, a good idea and one which we need much more detail about. But that still leaves a big question mark over the vital array of prison work that does not directly feature in any of the current discussions. What about reading schemes; family support projects; most of the arts work; faith based activities; listener programmes that save lives in every prison? These are vital activities to ensure decent regimes and dynamic security as well as often being a precursor to a more challenging resettlement programme. Yet we have little information about the future for this important part of offender work. There can hardly be a prison in the country that could continue to work as it does if there was a large scale collapse of VCSE services for people in custody. It is a very brave step to take our eye off prisons and it is becoming increasingly clear that we need a strategy to ensure VCSE prison based delivery remains in place. So, challenging times – ensuring that we get the best out of the probation reforms for our organisations and offenders who are working hard to turn their lives around, but also ensuring that we are not being so dazzled by the current fireworks that we forget some of the real questions that remain unspoken and unanswered by the current discourse.
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