The Ministry of Justice has pledged to adopt a more consultative approach to implementing the probation system that will replace the failed outsourcing of services to community rehabilitation companies.
In a formal response to the Justice Select Committee report on the reversal of its Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, the MoJ also confirmed that the government was developing a new workforce strategy for probation, a reversal from June.
The Transforming Rehabilitation programme split the probation system in two in 2015, with 21 private Community Rehabilitation Companies monitoring medium and low-risk offenders. The National Probation Service retained oversight of high-risk offenders.
However, the scheme was unsuccessful as the payment-by-results model intended to drive down reoffending rates cost £467m more than projected. It also led to worse outcomes, which justice committee chair Bob Neill said had “left the probation system in a mess”.
In May, the then-justice secretary David Gauke announced that all probation services would be brought back under public control as a result.
After the decision to take provision back into the NPS, the select committee published a report on how to ensure a smooth transition from the current model. MPs said they supported the “well overdue” changes as the creation of CRCs had caused many serious problems. The committee set out 14 recommendations for the new system, urging the MoJ and its agencies, MP Prison and Probation Service and the National Probation Service, to learn from “the failed and hurried introduction of the CRC/NPS split of services”.
Learning from CRCs
In her response to the report, justice minister Lucy Frazer acknowledged "the need to learn from Transforming Rehabilitation” when developing the new plan.
“The department’s commitment to listening to probation providers, staff, service users, sentencers and other stakeholders – not only during the consultation period but also subsequently, as the department tested and evaluated its plans – reflects the determination to adopt a more consultative approach to policy development,” she said.
“The model we have adopted received widespread support in the consultation. We are now undertaking further engagement with stakeholders to ensure their views are taken into account as we develop more detailed plans for the transition to the new model and the future commercial framework.”
Frazer said the design of the future model had prioritised “the need to deliver operational stability”.
The integration of core offender management functions under the NPS in future will promote a more sustainable commercial model for the use of private or voluntary providers, as well as minimising the risk of disruption to offender supervision, she said.
Frazer also revealed the department would develop a comprehensive workforce strategy for probation, including plans for professional recognition
This is despite the MoJ rejecting the committee’s call in June for a probation workforce strategy to address low staff morale. At the time, it said HMPPS was “developing a wide-ranging HR programme as part of its professional recognition programme” instead.
In her response, published today, Frazer said that “investing in and supporting our workforce is critical to the success of the changes we are making to strengthen the performance and delivery of the probation service”.
She added: “In order to achieve this there are a number of key areas in which we must take action. As a first step, we will develop a comprehensive workforce strategy for probation, which will include our plans for professional recognition. This strategy will crucially set out our thinking on the impact of our proposals on our workforce, as well as action needed to support the government’s ambition for the wider criminal justice system.”
Responding to Frazer’s update, committee chair Bob Neill said that the “years of underfunding and the botched Transforming Rehabilitation reforms have left the probation system in a mess”.
He added: “The government recognises the risk in moving to yet another delivery model, yet this response provides precious little information on how this risk will be managed.
“This response says almost nothing about how the probation service is expected to cope, through this transition, with the extra demand and pressure that will inevitably flow from recent announcements about tougher sentences and more police officers. We are just told that the government is “considering the potential impact of changes to sentencing practice on probation services”.
Frazer’s response also revealed that the cross-government reducing reoffending board, planned as part of Gauke's reforms, had been scrapped when Boris Johnson abolished several cabinet committees after becoming prime minister.
Neill said: “It gives us no confidence to discover that the government has quietly disbanded its trumpeted Cabinet Office-chaired Reducing Reoffending Board”.
“This was meant to support cross government work to tackle some of the main causes of reoffending, but the government has not been able to tell us a single outcome the board has achieved," he added.
“We found that there was a national shortage of probation professionals. We are glad to see that the MoJ has finally agreed to develop a comprehensive workforce strategy for probation, something which we recommended in June 2018. We look forward to scrutinising this urgently.”