Caroline Flint has called on the Government to sort out its reforms of the Probation Services.
Following an inquiry and report by the powerful Commons Public Accounts Committee, which Ms Flint led, the MPs believes the Government hasn’t yet lived up to its promises.
“The reforms of the Probation Service has been extensive. A huge shake up; the splitting of the service; and the contracting out of supervision of low and medium risk offenders to eight private companies – are huge changes to how we manage offenders after prison or serving community sentences.
“Two years into the reforms, we still have no real evidence of its impact on offending. Getting people from prison back into normal life, into work, sometimes back into family settings, is a complicated job. The success of this often determines whether a person goes on to stay out of prison. At present, lack of IT support and a patchy quality of service is hampering the Government’s objective.
“I hope the Government will work hard to address the shortcomings identified by the PAC’s inquiry. Reoffending is costly and creates more victims. This service is vital. The Government must see these changes are well delivered and show the results of this huge shake up.”
Ms Flint, who has three prisons in her constituency, brought the Committee to Doncaster, holding one of its evidence sessions in HMP/YOI Hatfield, as part of the inquiry. “I was delighted to bring the Committee to Doncaster. I wanted the Committee to get a glimpse of the important work our prisons do, and the preparation of offenders for release into the community.”
The Report found that reforms to probation services are far from complete and there is no clear picture of how the new system is performing in important areas.
It concludes that the Ministry of Justice has yet to bring about the promised ‘rehabilitation revolution’, which it must deliver at the same time as implementing other far-reaching reforms.
The Committee questions the effectiveness of changes to the system, for example the impact on reoffending of extending supervision to offenders sentenced for less than 12 months.
It also highlights the wide variation in the quality of arrangements to provide continuity between rehabilitation within prison and the community.
The Committee concludes that community rehabilitation companies (CRCs), which supervise offenders presenting low- and medium-risk of harm, “will need to work with and influence local and health authorities, police forces and other crucial providers” to enable offenders to better access services such as housing, education and employment.
It also finds that delays in resolving commercial negotiations are hindering the ability of CRCs to transform their businesses, and there are “significant barriers” to encouraging innovative practice in rehabilitation.
The Report states: “The Ministry was deliberately unprescriptive about how CRCs would deliver services to different groups. This allows space for innovation but can pose risks to maintaining services, in particular for specific minority groups such as female offenders.”
The Committee urges the Ministry to update it on progress by the end of 2017 “to provide confidence that performance data on rehabilitation services is reliable and complete and show whether the overarching aim of reducing reoffending is being met”.
Among its other recommendations, the Committee calls on the Ministry to complete commercial negotiations with CRCs as a matter of urgency; to create stronger incentives for CRCs to provide innovative services that meet the needs of all groups, and together with the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) sustain a diverse market of rehabilitation providers.
As a priority NOMS must also improve the usability of “fragile and precarious” ICT systems used by probation staff.
Meg Hillier MP said today: “There is a real danger the Ministry of Justice has bitten off more than it can chew.
“It set out with some fervour a programme of reforms not just to rehabilitation but also to the courts and prison systems.
“Ambition is one thing but, as our Committee continues to document across government, delivering positive results for taxpayers and society in general is quite another.
“’Revolution’ is a potent word the Government may regret using to describe its reforms to rehabilitation.
“After two years these are far from complete and there remain serious risks to achieving the performance levels expected by the end of 2017.
“We are disappointed that, given the human and economic costs of reoffending, gaps in data mean the overall effectiveness of the reforms cannot be properly assessed.
“But even without this information there are grounds for concern over the restructuring of the probation system.
“Evidence suggests new commercial arrangements could threaten the provision of rehabilitation services for minority groups, including women; we received testimony of excessive caseloads, and of the neglect of services focused on individuals.
“Reintegrating offenders with the community is vitally important yet the quality of arrangements to support this is patchy. There is also a continued failure to provide hard-pressed probation staff with adequate computer systems.
“None of this paints a picture of probation working effectively towards the goal of reduced reoffending.
“The Ministry must not allow other projects to distract it from the task at hand during what is a critical stage of rehabilitation reform and we urge it to act on the recommendations set out in our Report.”
Probation is the means through which offenders are supervised and their rehabilitation is pursued.
In 2012, the Ministry of Justice announced it would deliver a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ by reforming probation services. In June 2014, it split 35 probation trusts into a public sector National Probation Service (NPS) and 21 new community rehabilitation companies (CRCs).
The NPS now advises courts on sentencing all offenders and manages those offenders presenting higher risks of serious harm or with prior history of domestic violence and sexual offences. CRCs supervise offenders presenting low- and medium-risk of harm.
CRCs were in public ownership until February 2015 when, following an extensive procurement, they transferred to eight, mainly private sector, providers working under contract to the National Offender Management Service.
The reforms also extended probation supervision to offenders released from prison sentences of under 12 months, a group with particularly high reoffending rates; and the prison system was reorganised to provide offenders in custody with enhanced resettlement services in preparation for release.
Through these reforms the Ministry of Justice and the National Offender Management Service hope to secure economic benefits to society from reduced reoffending that are estimated to be worth more than £12 billion over seven years.