1.On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, we took evidence from the Ministry of Justice (the Ministry), the National Offender Management Service (NOMS, which is an executive agency of the Ministry), and the National Probation Service (NPS). We also received written submissions from a range of organisations involved with probation services.
2.Probation is the means through which offenders are supervised and their rehabilitation is pursued, primarily in the community. The Ministry oversees the supervision of some 243,000 offenders and has also been responsible for implementing a wide range of reforms to probation services, through the Transforming Rehabilitation Programme. In 2012, the Ministry announced it would deliver a ‘rehabilitation revolution’. In June 2014, it split the 35 probation trusts into a public sector National Probation Service (NPS) and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). Since February 2015, following an extensive procurement exercise, the 21 CRCs have been run by eight, mainly private sector, providers working under contract to NOMS. Running the NPS and paying and overseeing the CRCs cost the Ministry an estimated £889 million in 2015–16. The Ministry has also extended probation supervision to offenders released from prison sentences of under 12 months, a group with particularly high reoffending rates of nearly 60% within a year of release, and reorganised the prison system to provide offenders in custody with enhanced resettlement services prior to release.
3.NOMS publishes online various NPS and CRC performance information statistics on a quarterly basis and, in July 2016, also published a larger annual set of performance data. The Ministry also carries out operational assurance audits to assess the quality of work in all CRCs, including those which NOMS has placed on remedial action plans to address poor performance. However, at the time of our evidence session, there was still an incomplete picture of performance despite the new probation system having been in place for two years. The Ministry told us that it intends the performance of NPS and CRCs to reach the required levels by April 2017 but there are currently various gaps in the available performance data. The Ministry attributed some of these gaps to performance data that require a length of time before it can start reporting on them but other data is of insufficient quality to use. The ultimate success of these reforms, however, depends on achieving economic benefits to society from reduced reoffending, estimated to be worth more than £12 billion over the next seven years. The Ministry told us that good quality reoffending data for the reformed system is not expected until late 2017.
4.A crucial element of the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ was the extension of statutory rehabilitation in the community to an estimated extra 45,000 offenders sentenced for less than 12 months. For too long this group has had worryingly high reoffending levels, currently at nearly 60%, with the Ministry finding it extremely difficult to stop the constant “revolving door” of short-sentence prisoners. The extension of supervision has created extra strain across the criminal justice system through a significant increase in offenders being recalled to prison from the community for breaching their licence. Quarterly data from the Ministry shows the number of recalls increased by around 28% between 2014 and 2015. Some increase in recalls is to be expected from extending supervision and the Ministry regards the rate as within its expectations. But it is not clear to us that the Ministry and NOMS understands the full significance of the increased recalls or, more importantly, how this critical group of short-sentence offenders is responding to supervision, a concern expressed in the NAO’s report and other testimony we received.
5.The extension of supervision has also put additional workload onto staff already under pressure in prisons and probation and has created further friction between NPS and CRC staff. Indeed, as the Howard League for Penal Reform emphasises, the increase in the number of people recalled to custody is “pushing additional pressure and costs onto the already overstretched and under resourced prison service”. The decision whether an offender is recalled to custody is taken by the NPS; however, where the offender is supervised by a CRC, CRCs will provide the NPS with the evidence that offenders have breached their terms of supervision. The NPS may reject the CRCs notifications and, in some cases, this is happening for minor reasons such as spelling and grammatical errors in the notification. The Ministry has not provided us with the number of CRC recall requests that have been rejected by the NPS but claims that the level would be negligible. We received evidence that some CRC staff were discouraged from recommending enforcement action through the courts because it attracted financial penalties under the contracts. If widespread, this would produce fewer recalls than would otherwise be the case.
6.Since May 2015, the 21 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. The Ministry acknowledged that the mobilisation of this resettlement work in prison has not developed as quickly and as well as it would have wanted. It is over a year since “Through the Gate” services were introduced yet it is a concern that there is still wide variation in the quality of resettlement services provided to offenders by CRCs in prisons across England and Wales. Given that the provision of “Through the Gate” services was an important part of the changes introduced under Transforming Rehabilitation, it is significant that over two-thirds of offenders released from prison have not received enough help pre-release in relation to accommodation, employment or finances. The extent of variation and service quality issues have led the Ministry to review its current arrangements, including the contracts in place with CRCs.
7.One of the biggest challenges in delivering successful probation and resettlement services in custody and the community is giving offenders access to services beyond the direct control of the justice system. Accessing services such as housing, education and employment requires the NPS and CRCs to work with, and influence, local and health authorities, police forces and other crucial providers. For example, the NPS finds it can be acutely challenging to find housing for sex offenders near their families, as local communities would rather they were placed elsewhere in the country. While the CRCs’ contracts incentivise them to find accommodation for offenders, we heard that the offender housing problem is deteriorating, with 42% of service users participating in research carried out for the NAO feeling that help with housing has got worse since the probation reforms.
2 , para 1.3
3 Ministry of Justice, Transforming Rehabilitation: A revolution in the way we manage offenders, Consultation Paper CP1/2013, January 2013
4 , para 1.2
7 ; , para 7
8 ; ; para 7
9 , paras 4 and 1.2
11 , para 1.1
13 Howard League for Penal Reform ; Prison Reform Trust ; Ministry of Justice, , April 2016
14 ; rt, para 4.14; Prison Reform Trust ; Howard League for Penal Reform
15 Howard League for Penal Reform
16 HM Inspectorate of Probation ; , para 3.2
17 Mr Michael Spurr, National Offender Management Service
18 HM Inspectorate of Probation, paragraph 8
21 HM Inspectorate of Probation
22 ; ;
24 ; , figure 12
16 September 2016