Thursday, 7 October 2010

Does Crime Pay?

On one level clearly it does, not least because it's kept me in employment for a good few years. Taken as a whole, there is no doubt that crime and all the sophisticated efforts by society to deal with it, provides quite a good living for a lot of people. I remember that the winding down of the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland had a considerable knock-on effect for many jobs that had been connected either directly or indirectly. Prisons closing and the reduction in army presence all had a negative effect on the economy. 

As expected, the Conservative Party conference gave the green light to a whole new wave of investors to take a punt on being able to make some money out of persuading offenders to go straight. The new coalition government has really latched on to the initiative at HMP Peterborough where investors in the form of Charitable Trusts are financing a project designed to ensure that prisoners serving 12 months or less remain offence free for a specified period after release. Payment will only be based on results. It's quite a cunning scheme and had all-party support when initiated by the previous Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

Many Charitable Trusts in this field have typically been endowed with large capital sums gifted from philanthropists and only feel able, or may be legally constrained, to disperse grants generated from their invested capital funds. They can't or don't want to dip into their capital assets because most charities think and plan for the very long term and if they spent the capital, there would be no long term. But this clever 'payment by results' scheme offers the charities a possible 'win win' scenario of a return on their investment, thus opening up the option of using part of their capital for what they hope will indeed be a healthy results-linked return. Any proceeds can then be recycled. Potentially this could unlock considerably larger sums of money in order to fund this kind of rehabilitation work. No wonder then that an article in the Guardian notes that the idea is already attracting a great deal of foreign interest.

So far there is only one experimental project in one prison dealing with a group of offenders that are not the statutory responsibility of the probation service. However, there is a huge amount riding on this truly 'big idea' and there will be enormous pressure not only to demonstrate that it works, but that proof is delivered quickly. In an amazingly prescient disclosure, I notice that the Ministry of Justice feel confident that results could be available as early as next March. In which case we can expect a rapid roll-out of the idea across other core areas of probation work.

Being a cynic, obviously there is considerable scope to do some creative accounting by a bit of careful selection of the input, together with some fudging of the output. (Remember how the Training and Enterprise Councils were caught out fudging their figures?) But mark my words, this is such a clever idea, it will work and it's going to be very difficult to argue against the principle, particularly as we've had private companies making money out of running some prisons for quite a few years now. G4S, Serco and similar companies seem to be doing well from transporting prisoners, so NAPO is going to have to tread very carefully in deciding how to respond to the idea of Charitable Trusts making money from rehabilitation based on results. 

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