Since the Ministry of Justice announced its decision to end current probation contracts early and consider a new model for probation from 2020 onwards, Clinks has been working to ensure that learning from our trackTR research is utilised and the voluntary sector has a central place in the future model.
In this blog, Jess Mullen, Clinks’ Head of Policy and Communications argues that in light of eight Community Rehabilitation Companies effected by collapse and administration and recent reports from HM Chief Inspector of Probation and the National Audit Office, the changes currently proposed for the future of probation do not go far enough. She outlines Clinks’ five recommendations to ensure the voluntary sector’s future role.
The current model – ‘irredeemably flawed’?
In her 2019 annual report, HM Chief Inspector of Probation states that the current probation model is irredeemably flawed. In recent weeks we have also seen eight Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) affected by collapse and administration, a number of CRCs rated by the inspectorate as under-performing, and the National Audit Office warns that the review programme risks repeating the mistakes of Transforming Rehabilitation.
Our response to the government’s consultation last summer recognised that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) remained committed to a split probation service in England, with supervision for low-medium risk offenders put to the market, alongside a proposal for an integrated service in Wales, where only accredited programmes and unpaid work would be contracted out.
We put forward recommendations on how to best enable the voluntary sector's role in both these models. Since the consultation closed we have worked closely with the MoJ and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to feedback on their developing proposals. Recent developments have led Clinks to agree with HM Chief Inspector of Probation; the current model needs a fundamental rethink and the changes currently proposed for the future do not go far enough.
Our TrackTR research highlighted the negative impact that the current model has had on the voluntary sector. In recent months we’ve seen even more clearly that this model has led to unacceptable levels of financial risk being passed to voluntary sector organisations in the supply chain.
Organisations are subsidising services, in part, as a result of the lack of sufficient resources for the model. And worse of all voluntary sector organisations have been left in hugely vulnerable situations when the operating model has failed. Nor have they been treated as an equal partner in planning for and mitigating against the collapse and failure of the model.
Organisations have also told us that they believe the model has had a negative impact on their service users and we have seen no improvement in outcomes for people with protected characteristics. In fact Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) has had a negative impact on specialist services for these groups. Our research shows that women-centred services, which are widely recognised as best meeting the needs of women in the justice system had worse experiences of TR and we have not been able to identify any specialist black, Asian and minority ethnic services engaged in CRC supply chains.
5 recommendations for the future
MoJ and HMPPS must seize the opportunity to put in place a model that will fully address the flaws in the current system and bring the sector with them in the delivery of a future model. If they don’t there is a danger that voluntary organisations will decide that getting involved in the delivery of future probation services presents too great a risk. As a result statutory services will lose the support of the sector’s 200 year legacy, experience and knowledge of working with people under probation supervision.
To ensure voluntary sector involvement the future probation model must:
1. Simplify the system and reconsider the commitment to contracting out
The enormity of resource involved in designing the currently proposed split model for England, delivering the competition and procurement, managing the contracts and monitoring service delivery could be better used in direct service delivery by a public sector probation service as is being proposed in Wales. Under this model only accredited programmes and unpaid work would continue to be contracted out.
2. Provide grant funding
Grant funding for the voluntary sector should be properly utilised to ensure the least possible risk for those least able to bear it. Effective use of grant making would reduce complex and expensive commissioning processes, sustain vital effective services and provide flexibility to give charities the space to innovate and find the best solutions for service users.
Commissioning strategies should make a proportion of budgets available as grant funding alongside other funding mechanisms. This would support a diverse voluntary sector providing the right mix of funding for a range of different sized organisations.
3. Tackle inequality
In her annual review, HM Chief Inspector of Probation stated that “it has proved well nigh impossible to reduce probation services to a set of contractual requirements”. This is particularly pertinent in considering the kind of flexible, individualised and holistic services needed to secure outcomes for people with protected characteristics.
Further, contracting out probation services results in a blurring of responsibility and accountability for equalities outcomes. The current proposed ten contract package areas risks fragmentation of these services as well as disadvantaging small local and specialist organisations with knowledge and expertise to meet the needs of vulnerable cohorts.
Responsibility for equalities duties must be clear and supported by adequate grant funding for services to meet the needs of people with protected characteristics. Any contracted out services must have clearly specified requirements for meeting the needs of people with protected characteristics with a pass/fail criteria attached.
4. Ensure a local response
The majority of voluntary sector organisations working in criminal justice are small and locally based. The proposed move to ten co-terminus National Probation Service (NPS) and contracted provider areas could have a negative impact on these organisations. Commissioning strategies must ensure that the needs of the varied, diverse and specific localities within each probation area are met and must support and nurture further the existing eco system of voluntary sector organisations in each locality.
It must be recognised that only a handful of voluntary sector organisations would be in a position to consider bidding as prime contractors for probation services as currently proposed. The larger the contract package areas the more challenging this will be, limiting the potential overall share of the market that voluntary sector organisations are able to achieve. This will likely have the additional impact that contracts will not go to locally based organisations with existing relationships and track records in those areas.
5. Provide opportunities
The voluntary sector provides a wide range of services that support, and are often distinct from, the statutory probation supervision currently delivered by CRCs and the NPS. These services provide wrap around support and respond to changing need so that individuals are able to serve their sentence and go on to desist from crime and live fulfilling lives into the future.
Current Offender Management proposals see a role for the voluntary sector in the design and delivery of Rehabilitation Activity Requirements and Through the Gate (TTG) Services. To gain the confidence of the courts, Rehabilitation Activity Requirements will need to be specified and defined interventions and will bring voluntary organisations closer to an enforcement role than some have previously been in or will be comfortable with.
Through the gate services will be delivered in line with the current enhanced specification, which came into effect on 1st April, until year three of the new contracts, at which point the Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) model will be more fully embedded in prisons offering an opportunity to review TTG and better integrate with OMiC. However, voluntary sector involvement in the delivery of the enhanced specification is currently limited and it is disappointing that any significant changes to address the shortfalls of the current model will not be implemented until year three of the new contracts. It is also currently unclear what role is foreseen for the sector beyond year three of the contracts.
There must be opportunities and sufficient resource within and beyond Rehabilitation Activity Requirements for the voluntary sector to design and deliver what they do best - truly flexible, holistic and responsive desistance based services.