14.The Ministry’s reforms introduced ‘Through the Gate’ (TTG) services from 1 May 2015 to support offenders in their transition from prison to the community by providing resettlement support for accommodation, employment, finance and mental health and substance misuse. In 2016 and 2017, HM Inspectorate of Probation reported that TTG services consistently failed to meet offenders’ resettlement needs. In 2018 the Ministry estimated that 2,961 offenders released from non-resettlement prisons, predominantly sex offenders and foreign national offenders, did not receive TTG services from CRCs at all, despite being eligible for them. HMPPS explained that while it had put in place other arrangements to support the release of these prisoners from non-resettlement prisons, they had not had the additional practical support they could have had from CRCs in resettlement prisons. HMPPS told us that one of the major things it had learned from its rehabilitation reforms was the need to have clarity about minimum levels of professional standards for staff. It has now specified that suppliers will provide 484 staff to deliver TTG services.
15.The Ministry told us that problems with housing, employment and access to benefits are the three real drivers of re-offending. HMPPS said that releasing offenders without accommodation is a huge issue. We asked HMPPS about reports that people leaving prison in Wales, Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire were being provided with tents in place of accommodation. HMPPS acknowledged that it does not know how many prisoners are living in settled accommodation after they have left prison and it accepted some prisoners had been provided with tents. HMPPS told us about some actions it has taken, including expanding the number of approved premises places, but stressed it was not a housing provider. The Ministry told us that it was trying to increase collaboration between the CRCs, the NPS and the statutory and non-statutory housing providers. The cross government Reducing Reoffending Board has met two to three times in its first year and was designed to bring Departments together at working level. The Ministry told us that it was working with the Department of Health & Social Care on an offender personality disorder pathway programme, piloting a community sentence treatment requirement with NHS England and Public Health England, working on a programme to allow offenders to sign up with universal credit from prison and on the rough sleeping strategy with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The Ministry acknowledged that it has made ‘early steps’ with these projects but that it had not yet gone far enough.
16.From January 2015 to September 2018 the number of offenders recalled to prison for breaching their licence conditions increased from 4,240 to 6,240 (47%). The Ministry told us that this reflected the fact that 40,000 people were now subject to supervision for the first time, because of the extension of statutory supervision to offenders sentenced to less than 12 months. The Ministry acknowledged that it had not got post sentence supervision right.
17.One of the objectives of the Ministry’s reforms was to open the market to a range of suppliers from the private and voluntary sectors. When we reported on its probation reforms in September 2016 and March 2018 we were concerned that the full potential of the third sector was not being realised. However, as at October 2018, just 11% (159) of the 1,443 VSOs working in the criminal justice sector were providing services directly to CRCs. HMPPS told us that probation trusts had spent less than 3% of their budgets on voluntary and third-sector provision. The Ministry acknowledged that voluntary sector involvement was “patchy” and that, by and large, while large charities are involved, smaller charities are not. HMPPS told us that it had tried to “encourage and manipulate” supply chains to use smaller suppliers. However, many of the private-sector suppliers had partnered with larger VSOs and CRCs generally wanted to deliver the services themselves because it was easier to do so efficiently. HMPPS acknowledged that CRCs’ lower than anticipated volumes and different case mix had meant suppliers had ‘squeezed’ their supply chains to some extent and not provided the opportunities for smaller VSOs to get involved as the Ministry had planned.
18.HMPPS also told us that smaller suppliers were deterred from getting involved because of the level of risk. The Ministry secured parent company guarantees to provide financial protection for the taxpayer, including covering the costs of the Ministry stepping in to provide services for the remaining contract period. The National Audit Office found that many VSOs were unable to provide the financial guarantees required to tender for a contract on their own. The Ministry acknowledged that parent company guarantees were one of the obstacles to VSOs being prime suppliers, but it noted that the guarantees served the purpose of protecting the taxpayer from the insolvency of a subsidiary. The Ministry told us that it will design its new system to incorporate greater voluntary sector involvement. HMPPS said it has learned from the rehabilitation reforms that the more risk it transfers in its contracts in terms of volumes and costs, the harder it is for VSOs to play a part.
19.HMPPS explained that one of the consequences of it making resettlement support statutory was that many VSOs who had previously provided this support withdrew to focus their efforts elsewhere. HMPPS acknowledged that this had led to “a deterioration in support” since the statutory provision which came in offered little and replaced better quality provision, which it noted had come at no cost to the public sector.
20.The Ministry’s decision to split the probation service created new operational points of contact between the NPS, CRCs, prisons and HMPPS, which HMPPS then had to manage. The Ministry told us that the Transforming Rehabilitation programme was characterised by an extremely difficult and complicated landscape. The Ministry acknowledged that a consequence of its decision to outsource probation services, while continuing to retain more serious cases in the public sector, engineered a split and created “a two-tier probation service”. HMPPS said that it knew at the outset that fragmenting the system would cause some friction and that this was “not ideal”.
21.The Ministry committed to create an ICT gateway by June 2015 to provide a link between CRC and HMPPS systems. which it did not introduce until September 2016. As a result of the delay the Ministry paid £23.1 million in compensation to 17 CRCs. By January 2019, only two CRCs were using the gateway, seven were still working towards introducing their own systems and 12 had decided not to use it at all. The Ministry and HMPPS acknowledged that this had not gone as well as it should have done.
22.CRCs’ staff are prevented by law from providing advice in court and so the NPS provides all advice to courts in a pre-sentence report. HM Inspectorate of Probation reported that these arrangements do not support sentencers’ confidence in CRCs, which are detached from the process. There has been a decline in the use of community sentences, which has in part been influenced by sentencers’ lack of confidence in CRCs. HMPPS acknowledged that community sentences generally achieve better outcomes for offenders. It told us that it has been working to build sentencers’ confidence in CRCs, including through regular meetings with the Senior Presiding Judge and providing more information on what CRCs do.
23.As of September 2018 the caseload split between CRCs and the NPS was 59:41 against an original assumption of 64:36. The NPS’ high caseloads have been constrained by severe staff shortfalls resulting in intolerable workloads. In August 2018, its overall staff vacancy rate was 11%, and as high as 20% in London. It relied on more than 1,100 temporary staff, at the same time as also facing a shortfall of around 930 full-time equivalent staff. HMPPS told us that it was recruiting new probation officers, and its last cohort was around 600. It said that its attrition rate for probation officers in the NPS was 6%, which it did not consider an unreasonable level. But it said that it takes up to two years to fully train probation officers. It explained that it would prefer not to use agency staff and acknowledged that the NPS is “strained.”
43 C&AG Report, paras 1.16, 1.18–1.19, Q 29
44 Q 37
45 Qq 48, 53
46 Qq 48,142
47 Qq 46, 51
48 Qq 125–127
49 C&AG Report, para 1.15
50 Qq 35–36
51 C&AG’s Report, para 2
52 Committee of Public Accounts, , Seventeenth Report of Session 2016–17, HC 484, 23 September 2016, page 5; Committee of Public Accounts, Government contracts for Community Rehabilitation Companies, Session 2017–19, HC 897, 21 March 2018, p5
53 C&AG’s Report, para 1.9
54 Qq 11–12
55 Q 12
56 C&AG’s Report, paras 1.8, 3.13
57 Qq 27, 79–80, 148
58 Q 29
59 C&AG’s Report, paras 13, 2.4
60 Qq 6, 56–57
61 Qq 71–72; C&AG’s Report, para 1.11
62 Qq 72, 74
63 C&AG’s Report, para 2.5
64 Qq 58, 62
65 C&AG’s Report, paras 9, 2.8
66 Qq 40–41
Published: 3 May 2019