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Contracting out of probation services: 2013-2016

Published Monday, June 6, 2016

This briefing paper charts the implementation controversial reforms to the probation service. Most offenders are now supervised by Community Rehabilitation Companies, which are mostly privately led. A new public sector National Probation Service manages high risk offenders. So what's the verdict so far?

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This briefing paper charts the progress of recent reforms to probation services in England and Wales. It also brings together some of the commentary.

What are the reforms?

Under the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, the Coalition Government introduced major controversial reforms. These included:

  • Abolishing Probation Trusts
  • Contracting out the majority of probation work to private and voluntary sector providers in 21 new Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs)
  • Introducing a new public sector National Probation Service (NPS)to manage high risk offenders and service the courts

In addition, an extra 45,000 offenders are being brought into the probation system. This is because, for the first time, those sentenced to less than12 months in prison are going to be supervised in the community upon release.

What progress has been made in implementing the reforms?

The bidding process

In late 2013, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) invited bids to run the new CRCs. Thirty bidders were shortlisted; eight providers were finally chosen. These are mainly led by the private sector working in partnership with voluntary sector organisations. However, one is led by a probation staff “mutual”. CRCs will subcontract work to other organisations.

The new services are launched

In June 2014, the new National Probation Service was launched, and the 21 CRCs were created. Staff employed by Probation Trusts were divided between the two parts of the service.

The new providers take over

At first, the CRCs were publicly owned. However, from 1 February 2015, the eight new providers took ownership.  

The CRCs started providing what are called “through the gate” services from 1 May 2015. The MoJ has established a network of resettlement prisons which house prisoners in the last weeks of their sentence.  The CRCs provide resettlement services in those prisons.

"Payment by Results"

A key part of the reforms was a “Payment by Results” mechanism in the contracts. CRCs receive funding in two parts:

  • They get a fee for some services. These include the “through the gate” services and delivering the court sentence and licence conditions.
  • By 2017, they will receive “Payment by Results” for achieving statistically significant reductions in reoffending.

What’s the verdict so far?

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation has produced five reports evaluating the reforms as they have gone through. The most recent, published in May 2016, found improvements in joint working and communication between the CRCs and the NPS, particularly in dealing with breaches or increased risk of harm However, there were problems with court work, staff training and morale.

A National Audit Office report in April 2016 found that probation services have been sustained throughout a period of major change.  However, there were concerns over caseloads, and also about ICT systems, which the NAO said were creating “severe inefficiencies”. The report noted that the performance of the new probation landscape will not be clear until data on reoffending is compiled in late 2017.

The MoJ has emphasised the importance of the voluntary sector in the CRC partnerships; however, there have been concerns about lack of clarity for that sector about what their role will be.  A report in May 2016 noted that the pace of change was slow and involvement of the voluntary sector in supply chains appeared low.

Commons Briefing papers SN06894

Author: Pat Strickland

Topics: Alternatives to prison, Crime, Prisons

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