Just two of the 21 offender-rehabilitation services delivering the Ministry of Justice's new payment-by-results model have met their targets for the system's first year, new figures have revealed.
Data published by the MoJ shows that of the full cohort of Community Rehabilitation Companies aiming to drive down reoffending rates among low- and medium-risk offenders, only Merseyside CRC and Northumbria CRC managed to deliver numbers that entitled them to payments under the system.
The MoJ’s payment-by-results methodology requires CRCs to reduce not only the “binary” proportion of offenders being managed in the community who reoffend within a specified period after sentence, but also the “frequency rate”, which measures the number of crimes committed by those who go on to reoffend. In both cases reoffending is measured against baseline of figures from 2011.
Statistics published yesterday represent the final reoffending rates for 2015-16. They show that while 18 CRC areas managed to deliver a “binary” reduction, only Merseyside and Northumbria also managed to cut frequency rates for offenders who went on to commit more crime.
In 2011, Northumbria had the highest adjusted reoffending rate of any of the 21 CRCs – with 55.17% of convicted offenders going on to reoffend. It also had the highest frequency rate – an average of 5.15 offences for each individual who went on to reoffend, also the highest rate of any CRC.
Last month, a National Audit Office report highlighted the extent to which the MoJ had retooled its CRC contracts, making a further £342m available to them over the years to 2022 in order to offset projected losses.
Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier said the NAO report, which detailed higher-than-expected costs set against a reduction in the number of referrals being offered to CRCs, was evidence of the extent to which the MoJ had “set these services up to fail”.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the latest figures were an indication that the government had sought to introduce payment-by-results models as a way to save money, rather than to drive improved outcomes.
He added that a reduction in face-to-face meetings with monitored offenders was one consequence of the pressure services were under, and was one factor reflected in the reoffending-frequency statistics.
“The payment-by-results rhetoric was a useful banner,” he said. “But what this was really about was taking money out of the system.”
Neilson said that what was happening with CRCs was “very far away” from the kind of reoffending work done at HMP Peterborough with a groundbreaking Social Impact Bond that launched in 2010 under then-justice secretary Ken Clarke.
“These reforms were forced through at break-neck pace by a secretary of state hell-bent with getting them across the finish line by the 2015 General Election,” he said, referring to Clarke’s successor, Chris Grayling. “Successive secretaries of state have been with left with this mess.”
Neilson added that although the latest figures indicated that just two CRCs would be receiving payment-by-results awards, last year’s financial retooling of the system had effectively awarded all of the bodies their success payments.
An MoJ spokeswoman said the department's probation reforms meant 40,000 offenders were being monitored who would previously have been released with no supervision.
"Overall, Community Rehabilitation Companies have reduced the number of people re-offending, but they need to do more to ensure we have a service that keeps the public safe and helps offenders turn their back on crime,” she said.
"Probation officers are doing an incredibly professional job and we will continue to work closely with CRCs to improve performance."