This from Civil Service World:-
MPs raise alarm on Ministry of Justice’s “Transforming Probation” programme
The Ministry of Justice is unable to demonstrate that wide-ranging reforms to the way offender rehabilitation services are run are a success, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee have warned in their latest report. Members also said that so-called Community Rehabilitation Companies introduced to the system as part of the “Transforming Probation” reforms faced significant barriers, including delays in accessing the National Offender Management Service ICT system.
The PAC said that although the new regime was aimed at saving £12bn over seven years, the ICT issues alone had so far required compensation payments of more than £20m from the department. Their findings build on a National Audit Office report from April, which found that Transforming Probation’s splitting of services between the privately-owned CRCs and the National Probation Service had resulted in “unsurprising frictions” between public and private-sector staff.
The MoJ announced its "rehabilitation revolution" in 2012, and in June 2014 it split 35 probation trusts into a the NPS and 21 new CRCs. The public sector NPS now advises courts on sentencing all offenders and manages those presenting higher risks. CRCs supervise offenders presenting a low- of medium-risk of harm. However, the PAC said that more than two years into the transformation, there was no clear data on how the new arrangements were performing, and none was expected to be available until the end of 2017.
Committee chair Meg Hillier said the MoJ had set itself an ambitious target for the programme, which was still a work in progress at a time when the department was looking to halve its administration costs and drive reforms to the courts and prisons services.
“We are disappointed that, given the human and economic costs of reoffending, gaps in data mean the overall effectiveness of the reforms cannot be properly assessed,” she said. “Reintegrating offenders with the community is vitally important yet the quality of arrangements to support this is patchy. There is also a continued failure to provide hard-pressed probation staff with adequate computer systems.”
The PAC said there was a wide variation in the quality of arrangements to provide continuity between rehabilitation within prison and the community, and that CRCs’ “through the gate” services had not gone as well as the MoJ and NOMS had wanted.
They added that despite original aspirations for a wide variety of CRC providers, including mutual and charities, all but one of the CRCs was run by a private operator. MPs said the MoJ’s stance of being “deliberately unprescriptive” on how services should be delivered made it hard to evaluate their success.
“CRCs are expected to fund innovative programmes through their general resources,” the report said. “It is not clear to us how far this is actually happening. The ministry is reviewing the contracts with CRCs and considering what it should do to ensure that they create the right incentives for service delivery now, rather than relying just on a payment-by-results outcome in a few years’ time.”
MPs also warned that despite the importance of joint working across probation services, the relevant ICT systems were “inefficient, unreliable and hard to use”. They singled out NOMS’ nDelius case management system as a particular source of frustration that put "added pressure on hard-pressed staff”, and highlighted a £23m compensation payment made to CRCs by the ministry over delays in providing an access gateway to the NOMS ICT system.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the PAC report appeared to indicate that services were getting worse, increasing the risk to the public and letting down staff in the process. “The break-up of the public probation service was supposed to turn lives around, reduce reoffending and make us all safer,” he said.
“Even though the probation watchdog waited more than a year for the new arrangements to bed down before carrying out local inspections, the reports we have seen show that the quality of work has declined. The Howard League warned that ministers were taking a huge risk by dismantling a service that was performing well. We remain of that view.”
Justice minister Sam Gyimah said a comprehensive review of the probation service was being undertaken, with the aim of improving outcomes for offenders and communities. “Public protection is our top priority and we will not hesitate to take the necessary action to make sure our vital reforms are being delivered to reduce reoffending, cut crime and prevent future victims,” he said.
Everything in this Public Accounts Committee report was widely predicted on this blog and despite all the official MoJ warm words, completely confirms in spades the anecdotal evidence that rolls in on a daily basis. In my view it's so important, it's worth quoting extensively:-
Offenders with short prison sentences
4.A crucial element of the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ was the extension of statutory rehabilitation in the community to an estimated extra 45,000 offenders sentenced for less than 12 months. For too long this group has had worryingly high reoffending levels, currently at nearly 60%, with the Ministry finding it extremely difficult to stop the constant “revolving door” of short-sentence prisoners. The extension of supervision has created extra strain across the criminal justice system through a significant increase in offenders being recalled to prison from the community for breaching their licence. Quarterly data from the Ministry shows the number of recalls increased by around 28% between 2014 and 2015. Some increase in recalls is to be expected from extending supervision and the Ministry regards the rate as within its expectations. But it is not clear to us that the Ministry and NOMS understands the full significance of the increased recalls or, more importantly, how this critical group of short-sentence offenders is responding to supervision, a concern expressed in the NAO’s report and other testimony we received.
5.The extension of supervision has also put additional workload onto staff already under pressure in prisons and probation and has created further friction between NPS and CRC staff. Indeed, as the Howard League for Penal Reform emphasises, the increase in the number of people recalled to custody is “pushing additional pressure and costs onto the already overstretched and under resourced prison service”.The decision whether an offender is recalled to custody is taken by the NPS; however, where the offender is supervised by a CRC, CRCs will provide the NPS with the evidence that offenders have breached their terms of supervision. The NPS may reject the CRCs notifications and, in some cases, this is happening for minor reasons such as spelling and grammatical errors in the notification. The Ministry has not provided us with the number of CRC recall requests that have been rejected by the NPS but claims that the level would be negligible. We received evidence that some CRC staff were discouraged from recommending enforcement action through the courts because it attracted financial penalties under the contracts. If widespread, this would produce fewer recalls than would otherwise be the case.
Continuity of rehabilitation beyond prison
6.Since May 2015, the 21 CRCs have delivered “Through the Gate” services in which they assess the initial needs of all offenders in custody, provide them with resettlement services in preparation for release and, where appropriate, meet them on release and work with them in the community. The Ministry acknowledged that the mobilisation of this resettlement work in prison has not developed as quickly and as well as it would have wanted. It is over a year since “Through the Gate” services were introduced yet it is a concern that there is still wide variation in the quality of resettlement services provided to offenders by CRCs in prisons across England and Wales. Given that the provision of “Through the Gate” services was an important part of the changes introduced under Transforming Rehabilitation, it is significant that over two-thirds of offenders released from prison have not received enough help pre-release in relation to accommodation, employment or finances. The extent of variation and service quality issues have led the Ministry to review its current arrangements, including the contracts in place with CRCs.
7.One of the biggest challenges in delivering successful probation and resettlement services in custody and the community is giving offenders access to services beyond the direct control of the justice system. Accessing services such as housing, education and employment requires the NPS and CRCs to work with, and influence, local and health authorities, police forces and other crucial providers. For example, the NPS finds it can be acutely challenging to find housing for sex offenders near their families, as local communities would rather they were placed elsewhere in the country. While the CRCs’ contracts incentivise them to find accommodation for offenders, we heard that the offender housing problem is deteriorating, with 42% of service users participating in research carried out for the NAO feeling that help with housing has got worse since the probation reforms.
2 Barriers to achieving the “rehabilitation revolution”
Reduced business for Community Rehabilitation Companies
8.The case volumes of Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) are much lower, by between 6% and 36%, than the Ministry of Justice (the Ministry) had predicted when letting the contracts. The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) attributed this, in part, to the changing nature of the offender caseload and the mix of cases that have come to be managed by both the National Probation Service (NPS) and by the CRCs. They also noted more pronounced change in rural than urban areas. Despite lower than expected case volumes leading to reduced income, CRCs have begun to introduce some innovative practices, such as equipping staff with new technology, new “one-stop” service centres and working with cohorts of individuals in very different ways. The extent of this innovation has, however, been slowed by unresolved negotiations between the CRCs and the Ministry to address the impact of the volume reductions on CRCs’ income. These negotiations were ongoing at the time of the NAO report in April 2016 and were still not resolved at the time of our evidence session in July 2016.
9.The changing offender caseload has also added significant pressure to the NPS staff who are having to manage higher than expected numbers of more violent and sexual offenders. When combined with flawed ICT systems and pressure on NPS managers to deliver support services, this puts staff under increased pressure and negatively impacts morale. NOMS commended probation staff and those working in the NPS and CRCs for keeping services running over a period of sustained change.
Incentives to innovate
10.The Ministry intended that the probation reforms would incentivise CRCs to deliver innovative approaches to delivering offender supervision and support services. It was deliberately unprescriptive about how CRCs would deliver services to different groups of offenders as it wanted to give CRCs freedom to develop their own approaches to how to help and support someone to change. This stance allows space for innovation but can pose risks to maintaining services, in particular for specific minority groups, such as women offenders.
11.Voluntary organisations raised the quality of services delivered to female offenders as a particular concern, as women have different needs in respect of the services that will support them to stop reoffending. There is a statutory responsibility on CRCs to provide services for women but services are inconsistent across England and Wales as the statutory responsibility is not supported by more detailed specification. We received evidence highlighting concerns about the decline in CRC funding for women’s services, as well as perverse incentives to focus on contract performance rather than service quality. The Ministry emphasised that the closure of HMP Holloway, announced in November 2015, provides an opportunity to rethink the shape and size of the female prison estate. It expects that the closure will result in a different way of accommodating women prisoners and fewer women in prison. The Committee will follow closely developments in the women’s prison estate and the impact this has on probation services.
12.The Ministry told us that its payment-by-results pilots in Doncaster and Peterborough prisons had established that organisations were not prepared to be paid solely based on a payment-by-results basis for reducing reoffending. Under the Transforming Rehabilitation Programme, CRCs are primarily paid for delivering specified services with only a small element, around 10%, of payments expected to be paid on the basis of reduced reoffending. The pilots also helped the Ministry to refine the payment-by-results mechanism to take into account the frequency of re-offending. We have, however, received persuasive testimony on risks posed by the payment mechanism and by arrangements in CRCs’ supply chains. For example, the payment mechanism can reduce the incentive to adopt innovative practices. Established approaches to reducing reoffending, such as group-based accredited programmes, and more innovative approaches, such as the Care Farm Model in Warwickshire and West Mercia, are both important methods. Where a court orders an accredited programme this will attract specific funding. But if the CRC has its own innovative interventions and the court consents to this through a general Rehabilitation Activity Requirement, these must be funded from the CRC’s general resources. Submissions to us cited a “race to the bottom” on service quality, with specialised, individual-focused services being decommissioned in favour of generic group activities. This, combined with NPS court staff lacking understanding on the range of services now available, means that some innovative approaches are not being used or funded.
13.The NPS recognises that it has more to do to provide the appropriate advice to sentencers and the judiciary on exactly what rehabilitation services are now available from CRCs, whose staff are not normally present in court proceedings. The NPS also cited examples where it is trying to deliver innovation, as part of its Efficiency, Effectiveness and Excellence (E3) programme, in areas such as the accreditation of its approved premises and its training of probation officers.
Third sector involvement
14.The reforms had a specific objective to open up probation to a wide range of rehabilitation providers, including mutuals and the third sector, to provide further innovation in supervising offender. To understand the market’s appetite to sign up to contracts where payment is based on reducing reoffending, in May 2012, the Ministry tendered contracts for a pilot offender rehabilitation programme at Leeds prison. The Ministry closed the competition after bidders decided not to compete. It claimed to have learned from this pilot that the voluntary sector, who are often smaller organisations, had less capacity than private sector bidders to accept financial and commercial risk. It is not evident to us that this learning was applied to the CRC procurement with all but one of the 21 CRCs now controlled by private sector owners. Voluntary organisations felt that the Ministry had sought to transfer more risk than charities, or their trustees, could accept.
15.The Ministry pointed to a wider supply chain supporting CRC owners, including organisations from the community health, skills and education and employment support sectors. However, evidence submissions to us raised concerns about how voluntary sector organisations are being treated by the CRCs and the NPS. Research into the sector has found that the pace of change has been slow, reducing investment by CRCs in voluntary suppliers’ work, that the reforms have not succeeded in creating a diverse supply chain, and that poor quality communication with the voluntary sector is damaging relations and impeding service improvement. The research also highlighted that while some services remain unchanged, very few voluntary sector organisations are seeing an improvement in probation services. In many cases, these organisations are reporting negative experiences and outcomes for services users. We also received further evidence that organisations involved were not clear about the commitments in the contracts including performance indicators, financial penalties and incentives.
Enabling joint working
16.Successful probation services depend on effective joint-working across various partners, supported by well-functioning ICT systems. Probation ICT systems have long been unfit for purpose, which hinders collaboration and frustrates staff who already work under pressure. We were told that the nDelius case management system used by NOMS had to be stripped back so it could be operated by CRCs and NPS regions nationwide as a single system. As a result, this reduced the useability of nDelius and NPS staff regularly raise ICT issues with senior leaders in NOMS. Improving nDelius is a priority for NOMS and is particularly important for the NPS who will continue to use the system for the foreseeable future.
17.Most CRCs are installing their own case management systems and ICT infrastructure to increase efficiency and productivity. For this to happen, CRCs needed the Ministry to provide a “strategic partner gateway” to link NOMS and CRC systems. The Ministry initially planned to deliver this gateway in the summer of 2015 but this was delayed by other priorities and subsequently by increased scope. Though the gateway is now in place, the delay has impacted some CRCs’ ability to transform their ICT systems at the pace they had planned. As a result, the Ministry has had to pay a total of £23.1 million to 17 CRCs.
18.The probation reforms broke long-established working relationships, which many staff have found difficult to adjust to. The Ministry recognises the importance of getting the NPS and CRCs working together more effectively. It has put in place various governance structures, including ‘service integration groups’ to bring CRCs, NPS and NOMS together to work through operational challenges. The Ministry has also sought to identify and share good joint working practices, such as those existing in Wales, that it feels can be learned from and adapted to the different circumstances across England.
19.The NPS told us it is currently trying to deliver a more consistent service to offenders across its seven regions within England and Wales. It wants to ensure best practice in offender supervision is shared across England and Wales, rather than have a standardised ‘one size fits all’ approach. However, the NPS is struggling with a high workload and difficulties accessing services outside its direct control, such as housing, education and work. HM Inspectorate of Probation advised us that staff morale, training, workloads and line management are all variable and will need to improve if Transforming Rehabilitation is to be fully effective. NPS managers are also finding it extremely challenging to take on the additional responsibility of providing support services to their staff. The NPS told us that it was right for managers to take responsibility for their staff, but it also recognised that it had not appreciated the significance of, and the investment required in, providing support through a shared service centre.
Wider pressures on the Ministry
20.The Ministry now has to see through the intended improvements in probation services alongside multiple changes in areas such as the prisons and courts systems. The Ministry accepted that the Transforming Rehabilitation procurement process had probably diverted attention away from other areas. It wants to make sure that in future “business as usual” activities or second order change programmes receive the same amount of attention. It is conscious of current pressures in the prisons estate: the increase in violence and self-harm, new psychoactive substances and the attendant security risks. However, the Ministry is also facing significant resource pressures, having to deliver savings to its administrative budget of 50% by 2019–20 and overall resource savings of 15% by 2019–20. The Ministry has plans to make these savings, which include reviewing the way it carries out contract management and replacing specialist contractors with more affordable civil servants.
21.The Ministry has committed to provide prison governors with greater autonomy to decide the services delivered in their prisons, and it is unclear what impact this would have on CRCs already providing “Through the Gate” services. The extent to which these plans will continue will be determined by new Ministers following the reshuffle in July 2016.