Upon reading the final report of the House of Commons Justice Select Committee’s inquiry into Transforming Rehabilitation (TR), published today, one could be forgiven for thinking you’d read some of it before—and not that long ago either. The report makes for concerning, albeit increasingly familiar reading in relation to the wide gaps between the reform’s intentions and how things have played out in reality. The committee’s chair, Bob Neill MP, has been quoted saying that the probation system is “currently a mess” and that the committee are “unconvinced that TR will ever deliver the kind of probation service we need”.
The inquiry chimes with, and draws evidence from, recent reports from the Public Accounts Committee, National Audit Office and various inspection reports produced by HM Inspectorate of Probation, including joint inspectorate reports on through-the-gate services for short-term and long-term prisoners. As many of you will know, we published our third trackTR report on the experiences of the voluntary sector just last month.
The inquiry has lasted eight months and the voluntary sector sent in extensive written submissions, as well as many organisations appearing in front of the committee to give evidence. The report cites voluntary organisations throughout—both our evidence, and the need to involve our sector if we want to improve probation services.
The report makes conclusions and recommendations across a whole range of issues, listed below. I won’t go through all these areas, but recommend you at the very least read the report’s executive summary.
- Provider performance
- National Probation Service - Community Rehabilitation Company split
- The voluntary sector
- Short custodial sentences
- Through the gate
- Types of activity and frequency of contact
- Specific needs of offenders
- Long-term future of Transforming rehabilitation
The voluntary sector’s role
We welcome the specific focus on the experience of the voluntary sector. The inquiry found that the promised revolution in market access did not happen, especially for smaller organisations, as our trackTR work has shown.
The report states that “The voluntary sector is less involved in probation than they were before the TR reforms were implemented. This is of deep concern to us given the real benefits that the voluntary sector, especially smaller organisations, can bring to probation.”
The report cites lack of transparency as a particular problem and recommends “that the Ministry of Justice publishes more information on probation supply chains and considers what benefits might be gained from reintroducing targets for voluntary sector involvement. We also recommend that the Government should consider whether involving some of the smaller, more specialised voluntary sector organisations could be incentivised.”
The Committee also criticised the Industry Standard Partnering Agreement (ISPA) as cumbersome, too complex, causing voluntary organisations to seek out costly legal advice before they could deliver services. The committee recommends that “by 1 February 2019, the Ministry of Justice should review the ISPA, with a view to reducing its length and complexity. The Ministry should write to the Committee after that review to set out the changes that it has made.”
These recommendations reflect what you have told us, so it is great to see them reflected in the Committee’s report. We will have to wait and see what the government’s response is, but we are poised to work with the Ministry of Justice on these helpful solutions.
Helping to create a better probation service
The report covers many other areas that will be of particular interest to our members, such as:
- Improving contracting by making it more transparent, asking that the department move away from using commercial confidentiality as a block to being more open
- Reviewing the way performance is measured, specifically whether the payment-by-results mechanism is of any use in its current form
- Whether the split of caseload between the National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies should be based on risk of harm to the public, asking that the Ministry of Justice commission HM Inspectorate of Probation to review the current split
- Support for a presumption against short custodial sentences (of less than 12 months) and questioning the value of a fixed 12 month period of post-sentence supervision for those serving short prison sentences
- Through-the-gate services are seen as wholly inadequate and in need of a root-and-branch review, including the idea that resettlement planning only needs to commence 12 weeks before release
- Addressing complex needs, specifically targeting resources at improving housing outcomes, ending the right of local authorities to label someone as "intentionally homeless", and making sure people have access to benefits before they are released rather than just £46 in their pocket.
What about the future?
The report does well to address a number of short-to-medium-term issues—more than we have been able to condense into this blog—but thankfully it thinks about the future as well. The Committee have little confidence that the current probation system will or can work. After reading their report and seeing all the available evidence it is difficult to disagree. But we need a way forward, a constructive one rather than a destructive one. The report recommends that the Ministry of Justice initiate a review into the long-term future, combined with a consultation to get a range of views. We think that is a productive way forward. We need to make sure we are clear about what our probation services are for, what a good system looks like, how it will help people in the system and their families, and what role the voluntary sector can play within it.
Clinks will advocate for the full involvement of voluntary organisations and their service users, because we know they bring real value, quality services, and real insight into what an effective probation system looks like.
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