The Ministry of Justice has rejected a call by MPs to carry out a full review of its Transforming Rehabilitation reforms and to test its new probation model before rolling it out, in a response published a year after the recommendation was made.
Last June, the Justice Select Committee of MPs set out a series of recommendations to improve probation services, having concluded that the so-called Transforming Rehabilitation project that split the probation system in two would never deliver on its aims.
But in a response published this week, the MoJ rejected many of the MPs’ core recommendations, which also included a call to set out a probation workforce strategy to address rock-bottom staff morale.
The response does not address the delay, but notes that the document “takes account of developments since the publication of the report in June 2018”.
Last month, the MoJ announced it would reverse the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, which outsourced the management of low and medium-risk offenders to private Community Rehabilitation Companies.
Among other things, the June 2018 report called on the government to carry out a review into the sustainability of the TR probation models by February this year. Any replacement model should be “thoroughly planned and tested”, it added.
But rather than carry out a full review, the MoJ said it had “taken the time to think about what worked well, as well as what didn’t, under the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms”.
The ministry added that it had “reflected carefully” on its consultation on the future of probation, which it published in May when it announced plans to bring services back under public control. This would “ensure that future arrangements benefit from the expertise and experience of providers, service users, voluntary organisations, sentencers, probation staff and other partners”, it said.
The MoJ made no promises on testing its new probation model, which will roll out across Wales by the end of this year and England by spring 2021. It said it would “seek to apply any lessons learnt from transition in Wales” when rolling out the changes in England.
The justice committee report also gave the department 12 months to publish a workforce strategy covering both the NPS and CRCs. The strategy should be developed in consultation with trade unions and the prisons inspectorate, and address professional standards, training and maximum caseloads for probation staff “as a minimum”, the MPs said.
The plan should aim to improve staff morale, which MPs said was at an “all-time low”. “In some instances, [probation officers] are handling cases for which they do not have adequate training, and they feel de-professionalised,” the report said.
A year on, no such strategy has been published and the government has now said it has no intention of doing so.
The response said workforce issues would instead be addressed in a “wide-ranging HR programme” being developed by HM Prison and Probation Service. The programme will include a “common tiering framework for offender management” to enable better comparisons of staff workload.
It also said the government intended to bring forward legislation “when parliamentary time allows” to create an independent statutory register for probation professionals to support professional development and recognition.
The response made no reference to staff morale.
And the MoJ also turned down a recommendation to coordinate with the Department for Work and Pensions to enable offenders to apply for Universal Credit before leaving prison. Instead, the MoJ said it was working with DWP to “improve the process to access” welfare benefits by allowing prisoners to prepare but not submit applications before leaving custody.
Elsewhere in its response, the department did accept a recommendation to set out minimum expectations on face-to-face meetings between probation officers and offenders, which it said it would do by introducing national standards requiring monthly face-to-face contact.
Many of the committee’s recommendations – include a call to review how best to distribute offenders between the National Probation Service and CRCs – are now moot in light of the reforms announced in May.