Transforming rehabilitation Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.The Ministry of Justice has yet to bring about the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ it promised and must do so at the same time as implementing other far reaching new reforms, all with increasingly constrained resources. Two years into the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms there is still an incomplete picture of performance. The Ministry of Justice (the Ministry) intends the performance of the National Probation Service (NPS) and community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) to reach the required levels by April 2017 but it will have to remedy important gaps in its data if it is to know whether this has been achieved. Whether the reforms have met the ultimate test of reducing reoffending will not be known until late 2017. The procurement phase of Transforming Rehabilitation alone required a huge effort in the Ministry and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and diverted attention and resources from other areas. Now, as well as seeing through the reform of probation services, the Ministry is also pursuing extensive and ambitious change in Courts and Prisons, whilst at the same time trying to reduce its administrative budgets by 50%. It is crucial that the Ministry has the capability to manage these multiple, interconnected reforms, whilst also managing ongoing risks such as crowding, violence and substance abuse in the prison estate. The recommendations we set out below are intended to support the Ministry in retaining a strong focus on tackling the huge economic and human cost of reoffending.

Recommendation: We expect the Ministry to update the Committee 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.

2.Two years into the reforms, it is unclear whether the extension of supervision to offenders sentenced for less than 12 months is having the desired impact. Nearly 60% of people who receive short prison sentences of less than 12 months reoffend within a year. The Ministry extended supervision to this group to address this unacceptable and long-standing situation. Some offenders breach the terms of their release into the community and are recalled to prison. But a rapid cycle of short sentence, release and recall is a poor outcome for offenders, the prison service and society. The Ministry regards the rate of additional recalls as within its expectations but it is not evident to us that the Ministry and NOMS yet understand how this critical group of offenders is responding to supervision.

Recommendation: While lack of data is an issue the Ministry itself acknowledges, there are issues with supervision of short-term prisoners. The Ministry should identify these issues and set out clearly how it will tackle these prior to re-offending data being made available in late 2017.

3.There is wide variation in the quality of arrangements to provide continuity between rehabilitation within prison and the community. Since May 2015, CRCs have delivered “Through the Gate” services in which they assess the initial needs of all offenders in custody, provide them with resettlement services in preparation for release and, where appropriate, meet them on release and work with them in the community. Mobilising this new service did not go as well as the Minstry and NOMS had wanted. There is still wide variation across England and Wales in the quality of these services and NOMS expected to see better progress, which has led it to review current arrangements. One of the biggest challenges in delivering a service that works for offenders is accessing services outside the direct control of NOMS and the CRCs, such as housing, education and employment. CRCs will need to work with and influence local and health authorities, police forces and other crucial providers.

Recommendation: The Ministry should identify and disseminate examples of what works; both in terms of managing offenders through the transition from prison into the community and in influencing partners to address needs such as housing for offenders.

4.The ability of CRCs to transform their businesses is being undermined by delays in resolving commercial negotiations. The new owners of the CRCs were selected on the basis that they would invest in and transform these businesses. Promised innovations included new “one-stop” service centres and using ICT to free up probation staff time to interact more effectively with offenders. But this transformation has been slower than expected due to difficulties connecting the CRCs to ICT systems within NOMS and significantly lower volumes of business than originally estimated. Witnesses told us they were not complacent but negotiations to address the uncertainty of the volume reductions were ongoing at the time of the NAO report in April 2016 and were still not resolved at the time of our evidence session in July 2016.

Recommendation: The Ministry should urgently complete commercial negotiations with CRCs to provide the certainty necessary to support the planned transformation. It should update us on the result of negotiations, and the financial consequences, as soon as they are completed.

5.There are significant barriers to encouraging the promised innovative practice in rehabilitating offenders. 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. We also received testimony on negative effects of the new commercial arrangements such as excessive caseloads and bias towards group activities rather than services focused on individuals. Though well-established rehabilitation programmes attract specific funding, CRCs are expected to fund innovative programmes through their general resources. It is not clear to us how far this is actually happening. The Ministry is reviewing the contracts with CRCs and considering what it should do to ensure that they create the right incentives for service delivery now, rather than relying just on a payment-by-results outcome in a few years’ time. Under the reforms, the CRCs have no direct rights of access to the Courts and it is NPS staff who advise the judiciary on sentencing and rehabilitating offenders. The NPS has more to do to ensure that sentencers are aware of innovative as well as established options available from CRCs.


6.We are concerned that the full potential of the third sector is not being realised. The reforms had a specific objective to open up the probation sector to a diverse range of rehabilitation providers, including mutuals. The Ministry claimed to have learned from earlier pilots that the voluntary sector had less capacity than private sector bidders to accept commercial risk but it is not evident to us that this learning was well applied to the CRC procurement. All but one of the 21 CRCs are now controlled by private sector owners but the Ministry pointed to a broader supply chain of participants from relevant sectors such as community health, skills and education and employment support. It is vital that the Ministry and NOMS sustain a healthy and diverse supply chain. NOMS acknowledges that smaller, local voluntary organisations can feel squeezed out by national players and claimed to give opportunities for third sector suppliers to raise concerns with how they are treated. In other sectors, the Committee has repeatedly seen a narrowing of the private contractors bidding for, and running, services over time. Despite the Ministry’s professed intention to avoid this we are concerned about the trajectory which appears to mirror other sectors where smaller expert providers are squeezed out. We also received submissions raising concerns about how voluntary groups are being managed by CRCs and the lack of transparency about work opportunities.

Recommendation: The Ministry and NOMS must deliver on their commitment to sustain a diverse market of suppliers. They should assess the health of the voluntary sector’s relationships with CRCs and the NPS and use this insight to identify and address gaps in provision and enable smaller providers to contribute more effectively.

7.ICT systems in probation are inefficient, unreliable and hard to use. In a service that relies on successful joint working between multiple partners, it is essential that ICT supports, rather than frustrates, effective and efficient collaboration. This is far from the case for probation. Systems are still fragile and precarious, not least the ICT infrastructure and NOMS’ nDelius case management system, which puts added pressure on already hard pressed staff. The nDelius case management system had to be stripped back so it could be operated nationwide and improvements to its usability were deferred. There have also been delays in providing CRCs with a gateway into NOMS ICT systems. The Ministry has paid £23 million compensation to CRCs as a result. It is crucial that nDelius, the gateway and wider ICT systems are fully functional as soon as possible otherwise NOMS risk further demoralising essential staff and delaying planned service transformation.

Recommendation: NOMS should, without delay, meet its commitments to improve the usability of nDelius and to implement a fully functional and reliable link between NOMS and CRC systems by the end of 2016.

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

16 September 2016