Friday, 1 March 2013

Soft Soap from Minister

Just one of the small problems the MoJ has in trying to get the privatisation of probation to work under a Payment by Result system is the very annoying fact that released prisoners sometimes move. This topic came up at the stakeholder event I attended with potential bidders for 'through the gate' services becoming increasingly vexed at how they were to be paid if the client moved away?

The civil servants were scratching their heads, whilst some of us just shook our heads in disbelief, but the minister has come up with a very simple answer - they won't be allowed to move! When Chris Grayling gave evidence to the Justice Affairs Select Committee the other day, as reported here in the Guardian, he told them:- 

Newly released prisoners will be banned from moving around the country when they leave jail to ensure they complete rehabilitation programmes, Chris Grayling has told MPs.
The justice secretary said tougher conditions would be imposed on released prisoners from short sentences so that they could not "move 200 miles up the road for no reason".
He justified the move saying the current situation was "quite chaotic", with newly released prisoners moving around the country fuelling stubbornly high reoffending rates. "I do not think that anybody who has come out of prison and is subject to a supervision arrangement should be free to up sticks and move somewhere else," said Grayling after a Commons evidence hearing.
Oh minister, if only things in life were that simple! I think it's probably best we just let him find out for himself what the practicalities are of trying to impose such a condition, not so clients can complete their rehabilitation courses, but rather so the contractors can get paid. Of course that's a recurring theme in this whole daft idea. Never mind all the practical issues of trying to put in place a home, a job, drug and alcohol treatment etc for each released prisoner, it's actually all about a bloody payment and audit trail.
Amazingly he said there was no point in continuing to wait for the outcomes of the HMP Peterborough and HMP Doncaster 'through the gate' trials because it would take far too long. Much better then to just roll it out nationwide and hope for the best. In fact a bit like the Work Programme he introduced when he was at the Department of Work and Pensions. Presumably he could not see the irony of mentioning that the scheme had only taken a year and 18 days to set up and as we all know, has subsequently proved to be a roaring success.
The minister appeared to be in full 'soft soap' mode by this time:- 
He said he wanted to learn some of the lessons of the Work Programme, which is designed to get the unemployed into work and which he set up in only one year and 18 days. In particular he wanted to ensure that smaller voluntary organisations took a more commercial approach and did not sign up to deals that meant they actually lost money.
The justice secretary also said big companies would not win the contracts to supervise and mentor medium and low-risk offenders simply by putting in the lowest bids – they would also have to provide their own expertise and skills.

In the face of questions from MPs about the dynamic nature of offenders and how somebody designated "low-risk" can quickly turn into a high risk to the public, Grayling said it would be up to small probation "public protection teams" to monitor when the supervision of an offender should be brought back under public control.

He also confirmed that a 100% system of "payment by results" would not be used in the mentoring and supervision of offenders. Part of it would have to be free to recognise that the sentence of a court was being carried out. Work was still ongoing on how payment by results would work in practice, with questions of how out-of-court disposals such as cautions would affect payments yet to be decided.
The justice secretary also indicated there would be safeguards to prevent private companies and the voluntary sector simply "creaming and parking" the offenders less likely to respond to rehabilitation.
That's all ok then!
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  1. It feels more and more like we are all on the Titanic screaming 'ICEBERG' while the captain of the ship has got his foot firmly on the accelerator screaming 'wheeeeee......'

  2. Presumably then the rump of the probation service that has no contact with then "at that moment " low risk offenders will somehow have to work out when things are "getting a bit iffy". Wonder what the cunning plan for this will be ? Given the extra 50k(?) short term prisoners as well in the system perhaps the suppply of nuclear powered crystal balls will be subject to another government procurment contract. ( not subject to lowest tender price of course .. etc etc etc...)

  3. You will appreciate that there are one or two teething troubles with what is being proposed.