I guess it's no great surprise to see that Theresa May's strong hints at making a pitch for PCC's to run a re-united probation service have been influenced by a Tory think tank and bingo, Reform has produced just such a report. I love the way it's written in the surreal belief that TR has been a huge reforming success and a quick glance through gives me the strong feeling that close examination over the coming days might bear fruit of one sort or another:-
Over the last 15 years, there has been significant change to the way in which offender management services – i.e. prison and probation – are organised and managed. This has included the introduction of competition, first through private sector run prisons and then more recently through the outsourcing of the bulk of probation services through the Transforming Rehabilitation programme. Successive governments have also sought to create a more integrated offender management system, primarily by bringing prisons and probation closer together through the creation of a single agency – the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) – to manage both.
These reforms have delivered some positive change: costs are down and there have been measurable, albeit small, reductions in re-offending. For the scale and ambition of the changes made, however, the impact has been disappointing. Despite marginal improvement, reoffending rates remain stubbornly high and some aspects of prison performance have actually deteriorated. In addition, there remains continuing pressure to secure better value for money from the offender management services. A different approach is needed
The case for change
Offender management services should be designed and delivered at a local level. They must also be integrated. Evidence shows that a consistent approach to case management is more effective in managing risk, develops more positive offender engagement and is more likely to reduce reoffending than an approach in which case management responsibilities are shared across more than one person. An offender’s journey through prison and probation should be as seamless as possible – the right services, delivered at the right time, in the right place.
The Government has recognised the compelling case for continued reform, announcing plans to devolve greater powers to local areas and give prison governors operational autonomy, starting with establishing six Reform Prisons this year. Their reforms are also backed up by a £1.3 billion investment in modernising the estate by building new prisons and closing old and inefficient ones. Nonetheless, this programme does not go far enough, fast enough. An integrated system which puts rehabilitation at its heart cannot be adequately achieved whilst the system remains driven by the centre and pre-occupied principally with managing the prison population.
The proposals in this report set out an ambitious blueprint for reform that sees the Government’s current programme as the first step towards a radically different model of offender management.
Local commissioning, local services
Offender management services need to be commissioned and delivered locally, by commissioners who can make well-informed decisions about where money is best spent to achieve reductions in reoffending and reflect local priorities.
Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) occupy the right place in the system to fulfil this function. They are sufficiently local, and have direct accountability to the electorate in the communities they serve. They can claim a democratic mandate to change criminal justice services in order to reduce crime. This democratic mandate and the need to win re-election also instils a strong antidote to provider capture.
As such, PCCs should take responsibility from NOMS for commissioning all prison and probation services. They should also take responsibility for commissioning drug and mental health services for offenders to enable genuinely joined-up solutions to be configured at a local level.
To facilitate this, the current National Probation Service (NPS) should be disbanded. Responsibility for the management of all sentenced offenders, irrespective of risk, should transfer to CRCs.
Building on the Government’s plans to devolve autonomy to prison governors, all prisons should be re-constituted as self-governing organisations, rather than merely branch offices of a highly centralised national organisation. Prisons with freedom to respond quickly and flexibly to the requirements of PCCs will enable the momentum of reform to be accelerated.
These reforms together would negate the need for NOMS. Instead, a small Offender Rehabilitation Strategy Unit should be established in the Ministry for Justice to provide advice to the Justice Secretary on strategic planning and priorities, budget setting and response to poor performance.
At the same time, a new delivery vehicle should be created to drive local service integration. Local Rehabilitation Trusts (LRTs) should bring together one or more prisons, with CRCs and other offender services to enable the provision of end-to-end services. LRTs would offer commissioners integrated solutions, aimed at reducing cost and improving outcomes.
The Government should also create a new Criminal Justice Regulator, with responsibility for setting and monitoring standards, ensuring value for money and encouraging competition. As with other public service regulators, they would intervene in cases of poor performance. The regulator would replace the current complex and overlapping system of multiple organisations, providing clarity and consistency.
Taken together, these changes would create an offender management system which was genuinely local and genuinely accountable. With empowered local commissioners and providers able to take rational and informed decisions to deliver better outcomes.
This report examines options for building on the Government’s reform of the offender management system in England and Wales: that is, the arrangements for managing the prison, probation and surrounding systems. It seeks to build on the ambitious reforms delivered through the Transforming Rehabilitation programme and to map out a direction of travel for further reform of the governance and delivery of prison and probation services.
Our proposals are based on two principles. Firstly, that the offender management system needs to be seen and treated as exactly that: a system. The goal of the many attempted reforms over the last 15 years has been to seek to integrate prisons and probation (and other agencies who work with offenders and influence their future behaviour). Although there is no doubt that the prison and probation delivery landscape is now markedly different, it is questionable whether the efforts at integration have gone far enough or realised sufficient benefit. We reflect on the success, or otherwise, of these efforts, and the key barriers which have hindered progress on these objectives.
The second principle is one of localism. Whatever the policy framework for offender management services, it remains the case that (in the vast majority of non-digital crimes) offending takes place locally and the best responses to offending behaviour are designed, organised and delivered locally.
Reflecting these principles – the need for a systemic approach to managing offenders and the need for solutions to be delivered locally – this paper proposes options for radical devolution of responsibility for managing prisons and probation.
Understanding the problem
NOMS, and the institutions and services it manages, have seen almost perpetual reform and change over the last 15 years, mainly driven by an inability to govern the competing tensions of ministerial desire to set objectives nationally and to meet national pressures, particularly on prison populations, and the desire to achieve local transparency and control to meet local needs. This fundamental tension lives on in the current arrangements, where the management of a national system – as HM Prison Service (HMPS) predominantly remains – runs up against the provision of local community-based rehabilitation services through the recently created Community Rehabilitation Companies.
Designing for the future
This circle needs to be squared. Reducing reoffending means changing the behaviour of individuals. These changes are achieved locally, through local networks and services. Trying to achieve such outcomes with a system which still has a national centre of gravity limits the ability of providers to meet local needs, to innovate and to craft genuinely local solutions to the reoffending problem.
Resolving this conflict, alongside the need to bed-in the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms and achieve significant further efficiency savings, has left prisons and probation facing extremely challenging and confused messages, particularly in relation to how to work together to deliver the resettlement agenda.
This paper argues that we must begin planning for the post Transforming Rehabilitation future now.
We are, however, well aware that intelligent people have been attempting to achieve these aims since before NOMS was launched. Any plans need to be realistic and reflective of the very real barriers which have stymied previous reform in this area. Only by being open and honest about the real tensions in the system can we reach a point where decisions can be made to rank one priority over another and deliver change which will explicitly inhibit some aspects of the system to enable others to flourish.
(More to follow)
About the authors
About the authors
Kevin Lockyer worked for nearly 25 years in prisons and probation, as a prison governor and as a senior civil servant in the National Offender Management Service. After a spell as a Director of the crime reduction charity Nacro, he now runs his own consultancy business and has supported a number of large private and voluntary sector organisations during the Transforming Rehabilitation programme.
Richard Heys worked for five years in the National Offender Management Service and Ministry of Justice on competition, commissioning and estate matters, before undertaking consultancy work. He has acted as financial bid manager for a range of criminal justice-related competitions including electronic monitoring and Transforming Rehabilitation. Richard is a professional economist.
The report was edited by Charlotte Pickles, Deputy Director and Head of Research, Reform