In July, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announced a public consultation on proposals to stabilise the delivery of probation services. The consultation runs until 21st September 2018.
This blog provides an update on the consultation process, what Clinks is doing to respond and what we’ve been hearing from voluntary organisations so far on the future of probation.
Why is the MoJ consulting?
Major changes were made to probation services across England and Wales through the Transforming Rehabilitation programme in 2015. This large structural reform replaced Probation Trusts with a single National Probation Service (NPS), responsible for the management of ‘high-risk’ offenders; and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), responsible for the management of ‘low to medium risk’ offenders in 21 Contract Package Areas (CPAs).
The programme was controversial from inception, and it quickly became apparent it was not working as intended, as outlined in a recent report by the Justice Select Committee.
The MoJ also came under pressure for how Transforming Rehabilitation impacted on voluntary organisations. Clinks’ own research showed that the voluntary sector was under represented, under pressure and under resourced in the delivery of services under the reforms.
In response to such pressures, the MoJ decided to end current contracts in 2020 (two years earlier than planned) and begin a process, including a consultation, to redesign probation services. This consultation is part of that process.
You can read Clinks’ Interim Head of Policy Jess Mullen’s reaction and full summary of the key points of the consultation document here.
What we’re doing and what we’re hearing
We have been busy supporting the MoJ’s market and stakeholder engagement activity, to ensure voluntary sector organisations can meaningfully input into the consultation process. We have hosted four events across England and Wales which were attended by over 150 people representing voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system.
At these events, officials from the MoJ presented their proposals for the future of probation, and Clinks staff facilitated roundtable discussions on three areas: service design, commissioning and market stewardship. Here are some initial themes which came out of these discussions:
Greater continuity of support needed. Many organisations identified the general lack of continuity from prison, to resettlement, through to ongoing probation support as a key issue in the current system. Greater communication and integration between probation and prisons is needed, as well as greater coordination between probation services and other statutory services.
Large CPAs must not neglect local charities. In the consultation document, the MoJ proposes reducing the number of CPAs from 21 to 10. While this may encourage greater coordination between the NPS and CRCs, there is some concern that increasing the size of the geographical areas CRCs cover would make it even harder to ensure local, specialist charities are involved in delivery.
The ISPA should be replaced. The Industry Standard Partnering Agreement (ISPA) is a standardised subcontract developed by the MoJ for use in probation. The ISPA has been too complex for smaller charities, and has given power to CRCs to negotiate favourable terms. It has also proved too rigid to respond to changes in volume of work. The ISPA should be scrapped and any future template contract must be flexible and proportionate to the services being delivered.
Holding CRCs to account. Many voluntary organisations have been left frustrated in their relations with CRCs. Some want the MoJ to bring in either incentives or enforce requirements on CRCs to involve voluntary organisations meaningfully in the delivery of probation services.
As part of these consultation events, we also held a closed session, without MoJ officials present, in order to hold conversations with voluntary organisations on broader concerns and issues with the design of probation services. The discussions held in this context will inform and shape our own response to the consultation.
It is clear through our engagement with voluntary organisations that there is some scepticism over the consultation process itself. In particular, people are concerned that the deadline the MoJ has given itself to consult on, redesign and launch a new probation service is at best ambitious. Given that the rushed implementation of Transforming Rehabilitation led to so many unforeseen consequences, such a concern is understandable.
Nonetheless, we think it is important that as many voluntary organisations as possible contribute to this consultation.
What you can do
The MoJ is listening - illustrated by the number of officials who have come to these events, engaged in discussion and answered often difficult questions. There is much yet to be decided and voluntary organisations still have an opportunity to shape probation services for the better.
The MoJ is also keen to hear from those with experience of navigating probation services themselves, and they have created resources to support organisations to consult with their service users in this process.
If you need any support in responding to the consultation, have any questions about the process, or wish to feed into our response, please get in touch.