Today the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announced an eight-week public consultation on the future of probation services. An open consultation on the future purpose and structure of probation was one of the key recommendations from Clinks' TrackTR research on the voluntary sector's involvement in Transforming Rehabilitation and we therefore warmly welcome this announcement.
You can read our press release responding to the announcement here.
While a public consultation on this subject is positive in and of itself, in this blog I will take a closer look at the MoJ's proposals and examine how different they truly are to the current system. Do they represent ‘TR-exit’ or is this more a case of ‘TR-lite’?
Involvement of the voluntary sector
Our research shows that the voluntary sector is under represented, under pressure and under resourced in the delivery of probation. It is reassuring to see the government recognise this in their consultation document. They also acknowledge our findings that charities in supply chains have had to adapt services or subsidise them with other charitable funds, undermining their quality and sustainability.
In order to improve the quality of services the Ministry of Justice is proposing that future probation contracts should be more clearly focused on “core offender management functions” and “delivering the standards that the courts require”. The proposals state that future arrangements will be much clearer about the services probation providers are required to deliver, where they may seek to commission, and where they should seek to influence the delivery of other local services. This is welcome and should help to address the confusion about what could and should be funded by probation, which our research found was leading to disinvestment in voluntary sector services from other sources.
They also state an intention to set out a clearer role for the voluntary sector and better facilitate its involvement in the design and delivery of probation services. This is particularly welcome. As the proposals rightly acknowledge, the type of support required to stop an individual offending varies from person to person. In many cases the underlying causes of offending are complex - homelessness, unemployment, mental ill health, substance misuse - and require additional specialist support - support which the voluntary sector has a proud history of providing alongside probation services, long before Transforming Rehabilitation was even a twinkle in Chris Grayling's eye.
There is, though, a potential contradiction and risk in the language used in the proposals. Describing offender management functions as the “core” of probation risks interpretation that this is also the core of rehabilitation and resettlement. In many cases, what is core to supporting a person's desistance is far more complex. The need for services that respond to that complexity must remain central in the development of these proposals, as well as consideration of how probation can secure access to them. It will be vital, as the new contracts are developed, to ensure that these additional but nonetheless essential services are properly enabled to support offender management.
The consultation itself does recognise this and asks how the MoJ can better engage voluntary sector providers in the design and delivery of rehabilitation and resettlement services for people in the community. It is welcome that the MoJ is asking this question openly of the voluntary sector and recognises the value of co-designing commissioning and partnership working arrangements. They briefly set out some potential future models for this - such as separate frameworks or dynamic purchasing systems at national and regional levels - but the detail is lacking. Given the experience of many organisations under the current system, as well as recent experiences of the commissioning of families services and the current education contracts commissioning process, significant assurances will be needed by many in the voluntary sector that the lessons of the past will be learnt and applied.
The proposals also involve reducing the number of contract package areas from 21 to 10. It will be essential that consideration is given to the impact this might have on contract size, voluntary sector involvement and the provision of specialist and localised services.
There is also little attention given to those voluntary sector organisations who are in current supply chains and will inevitably be asking what all this means for them and what transition arrangements will be in place for their contracts. Clinks has been advised that organisations in this position should discuss this with the relevant Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). However, we would also be keen to know of the challenges and issues that you are encountering.
Other key proposals
In addition to setting out plans for working more closely with partners and involving the voluntary sector, the proposals include a range of significant changes to both how probation services are delivered and how they are contracted.
We will be publishing a full briefing on the proposals in the coming days but for now here’s a summary:
- Current CRC contracts will be terminated 18 months early. A competition for new contracts will be launched early next year and new CRC contracts will be in place by autumn 2020.
- The number of contract package areas will be reduced from 21 to 10, making CRCs and the National Probation Service (NPS) co-terminus in order to drive better integration. They will be managed by a single Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service leader responsible for joining up services and working with stakeholders.
- Future contracts will pay providers to deliver core services while retaining incentives for innovation and performance.
- The key performance outcomes and indicators that providers should be judged against will be explored and HM Inspectorate Probation will be supported to implement its new framework.
- Options will be explored for the commissioning of rehabilitation services to promote engagement and collaboration with local partners and facilitate greater voluntary sector involvement
- Police and Crime Commissioners will be engaged to consider how they can play a greater role in shaping rehabilitation services and improving collaboration with local services.
- Minimum standards will be introduced which specify the form and frequency of contact between offenders and responsible officers
- Post-sentence supervision will be reviewed to ensure it is proportionate to each offender’s sentence and rehabilitative needs
- Circumstances for transfer of cases between CRCs and the NPS will be reviewed to take into account the dynamic nature of risk
- The quality of advice to the court will be improved so that it better informs sentencing decisions
- The range and quality of services delivered as part of rehabilitation activity requirements will be defined and embedded in future contracts and service levels
- A protocol will be tested in five areas in England to increase the use of community sentences with drug, alcohol or mental health treatment requirements
- Options for how the particular needs and vulnerabilities of different cohorts of offenders, including those with protected characteristics, will be explored
- The data collected and published on offenders’ protected characteristics will be improved.
While criminal justice is not devolved to the Welsh government, prison and probation services are configured slightly differently in Wales and many related policy areas such as health, housing, social welfare and education are devolved. As the consultation highlights, this presents a fundamentally different delivery landscape in Wales and distinct partnership arrangements already exist to join up the delivery of rehabilitation and resettlement services.
The Ministry of Justice is therefore proposing an alternative delivery arrangement whereby the functions of the CRC and NPS will be integrated into a single organisation with responsibility for all offenders. Additional services that support rehabilitation and resettlement will then be put out to tenders to enable a range of providers and voluntary sector organisations to compete to deliver them. This will likely extend beyond the kinds of support services described above to core parts of sentence delivery such as unpaid work schemes and accredited programmes.
The proposals recognise that local landscapes are evolving and that probation services could be better aligned to regions with greater devolved responsibilities. They set out plans to test the benefits of co-designing arrangements in London and Greater Manchester where criminal justice devolution agreements are already in place.
TRexit or TRlite?
There is much in these proposals to welcome and that responds to the concerns raised by Clinks’ research and that of the Public Accounts Committee, Justice Committee and HM Inspectorate of Probation. However, it is also clear that the Ministry of Justice is somewhat bound by the parameters of what it can do both politically - to avoid risking accusations of a full U-turn - and economically, given its current cash-strapped position. Reforms after the consultation period must address the fundamental limitations of the current system and not just fiddle with detail and presentation or they will risk not changing anything at all.
Clinks will be submitting a response to the consultation and encourage other voluntary sector organisations to do the same.
We want to know what you think. Do these proposals represent significant change or will it be more of the same?