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Contracting out of probation services

Published Tuesday, May 21, 2019

This briefing paper charts the implementation of controversial reforms to the probation service.

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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.

Background

In the 2010 Coalition agreement, the Government said it would introduce a “rehabilitation revolution that will pay independent providers to reduce reoffending”. On 9 May 2013, the MoJ published Transforming Rehabilitation: A Strategy for Reform, announcing its plans to invite providers from the voluntary and private sectors to bid for rehabilitation services.

One of the main new changes was splitting the probation service in two, with the public sector managing high risk offenders and providing services to the courts, and the new Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) managing low and medium risk offenders. In September 2013, the MoJ invited bids to run 21 CRCs across England and Wales, worth a combined £450 million. The list of new owners of CRCs was released on 18 December 2014. Only one of the CRCs was won by an organisation outside the private sector.

Implementation

Payment by Results (PbR) is an outcome-based payment scheme central to the Government’s reforms. Under the contracts, a proportion of a provider’s payment is determined by the reductions in reoffending they achieve. The Transforming Rehabilitation strategy document said this would create an incentive for providers to “focus relentlessly on driving down reoffending”.

Transforming Rehabilitation introduced a nationwide “through the gate” resettlement service. The intent was to give most offenders continuous support, usually by the CRC, from custody into the community. CRCs began providing “through the gate” services from 1 May 2015.

Inspections

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) produced five reports evaluating the reforms as they progressed. The final report, 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.

In its thematic inspections, HMIP said that the ‘Through the Gate’ services were so poor that if they were removed the impact would be “negligible”. HMIP also found in a separate report that the reforms had meant services for women offenders were less focused. 

HMIP began individual area inspections in summer 2016. They have found overall that CRCs are performing below expectations, with particular criticism for some CRCs monitoring offenders by telephone.

Reactions to the reforms

Transforming Rehabilitation has primarily attracted criticism since the reforms were announced. Initial concerns focused on the speed of the reforms, the splitting of the probation service into two, and the possible ideological reasons behind the changes. During the reforms, criticism focused on the performance of CRCs, with lower than expected workloads causing financial difficulties. The Public Accounts Committee found that the MoJ had yet to bring about a “rehabilitation revolution” and questioned the effectiveness of the reforms.

Changes to the CRC contracts

In July 2017, Sam Gyimah, then Minister for Prisons and Probation, accepted that there had been problems with the delivery of the reform programme, blaming in part the reduction in the number of low or medium risk offenders. He said the Government had acted urgently to adjust the payment mechanism to make CRC income “less sensitive to changes in demand”. The Government hoped that this would provide CRCs with more certainty of their future income, allowing them to invest in delivering the necessary services.

Continued concern

In 2017, both the Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service and the Chief Inspector of Probation, said the new system was not working well.

The Justice Committee’s report into Transforming Rehabilitation, published in June 2018, identified and examined many serious issues regarding the reforms and said that the scale of the issues facing the sector is of great concern.  Regarding the longer-term future of the reforms, the Committee concluded that it was “unconvinced that the TR model can ever deliver an effective or viable probation service”.

The Chief Inspector of Probation said in her 2019 Annual Report that the probation model delivered by Transforming Rehabilitation was “irredeemably flawed”.

The National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee both published reports in 2019 which commented on the rushed implementation of the changes to probation and a lack of value for money. The Public Account Committee said that probation services had been left “underfunded, fragile, and lacking the confidence of the courts”.

Ending of the CRC contracts, consultation and further reform

In July 2018 the Justice Secretary announced that the CRC contracts would be ended two years early in 2020. The Government said it would design new and improved contracts and published a consultation on its plans.

In May 2019 the Secretary of State announced that all offenders will be monitored by the National Probation Service from December 2020, ending the role of CRCs in supervising low and medium risk offenders. This change in policy was widely welcomed.

 

Commons Briefing papers SN06894

Author: Jacqueline Beard

Topics: Alternatives to prison, Crime, Prisons

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