Supplementary written evidence from Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (TRH0109)
Thank you for your recent letter following my participation at the Justice Select Committee on 27th February. Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you.
I am always delighted to be called to give evidence to the committee and remain committed to seeing how PCCs can play a greater role in overseeing the criminal justice system and taking forward justice devolution.
Oversight and Accountability
In your letter you posed the question “If Police and Crime Commissioners took on only one of the following roles:- oversight and accountability, a decision-making role in financing services or a role in inspections - which would I prioritise, and how could these distinct responsibilities be balanced?”
My response is that as Chair of the Criminal Justice Board in Hertfordshire, I am the only person around the table with no operational role. Giving a greater role to the oversight and accountability of the criminal justice system would help to bring the disparate parts of the system together around a shared plan, allowing for the focus and targeting of resources more effectively and the achievement of shared outcomes. Currently agencies work in silos, working to their own organisation’s plans with often conflicting priorities and an absence of shared outcomes, leading to a narrow focus on a particular part of the system. Broadening PCCs’ role to have greater oversight and accountability across the end-to-end system and particularly around commissioning offender services, would lead to better outcomes for victims, witnesses and offenders.
Currently the public is largely absent from discussions in relation to the criminal justice system. There is a need to hear their views and use their experiences to help shape and improve the system. In many areas, like Hertfordshire, PCCs are chairing their local Criminal Justice Boards, which has helped to improve the visibility and accountability of criminal justice agencies at a local level, but this needs to be formalised across all areas of the justice system. Extending the role of PCCs could assist with this.
It is also clear that a whole-system approach is required around offender management, including resettlement services. Given PCCs’ success with the commissioning of appropriate victims’ services in a locality, there is an opportunity to extend their role to include decision-making in financing services for short-sentences, young, and women offenders. By doing so, it will help to: bring about better end-to-end service delivery for offenders; create incentives for local areas to invest in preventative services and alternatives to custody; facilitate closer partnership working between agencies; and provide greater scope for innovative ways of reducing reoffending – something which is currently missing.
As local criminal justice leaders, PCCs are well placed to support the inspection process and often have sight of where things are going wrong in the system long before a formal inspection takes place. PCCs would be able to complement the existing inspection regime under HM Inspectorate of Probation in:
- providing assurance to Ministers and the public that adult and youth offending work is being delivered effectively;
- highlighting enablers and barriers to effective practice;
- making recommendations to improve the quality and impact of the work; and
- enabling improvement in the effectiveness of probation and youth justice services across England and Wales.
There are a number of opportunities to ensure that best practice is disseminated should PCCs be given a role in funding probation services. As standard practice Police Transformation Grants, including the recent Home Office Violence Against Women and Girls (VWAG) Fund, require recipients to share the learning and best practice from their projects across the country. If PCCs were to commission probation services, the Ministry of Justice could build these requirements into the Terms and Conditions of the grant.
PCCs are also able to make best use of their local and national networks, including the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) as the membership organisation (and associated portfolio structure), and their local Community Safety Partnerships and Criminal Justice Boards to facilitate effective sharing of best practice.
Involving the Voluntary Sector
You asked how the voluntary sector should be involved, formally and informally, in delivering probation services and support going forward, and what changes could be made in the short term. Evidence over the last few years has shown that the current contractual arrangements and payment by results mechanism does not incentivise Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) to use the voluntary and community sector and, in particular, disadvantages smaller organisations. CRCs are not paid for rehabilitation activity requirements, nor do their contracts incorporate early intervention and preventative activity, which is crucial to supporting efforts to reducing the number of people coming into the system. NOMS accredited programmes are now seen as the main or default answer and, as such, the voluntary and community sector involvement has reduced. Moving to a local commissioning or co-commissioning role would enable PCCs to engage with the voluntary sector and make best use of smaller, locally tailored place-based services and their skills, expertise and innovative methods to reduce reoffending. The voluntary and community sector are often best placed to provide local support to offenders.
In the short term, enabling PCCs to have greater oversight of the commissioning and decommissioning of offender services could support greater engagement with the voluntary sector as PCCs are able to draw on their extensive networks and cross county partnerships.
The final question you asked was around the challenges of cross-departmental working in the area of probation and how they could be overcome. All criminal justice agencies operate across different geographical footprints, which presents significant challenges in facilitating cross working. The consolidation of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) has resulted in fewer local areas, creating larger units. The CPS now operates across 13 areas (including Wales and London), HMCTS operate across seven geographical regions and has separately amalgamated court areas on a different geographical footprint to the CPS areas. The National Probation Service covers divisional areas and work alongside 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies working to super contract areas, and HM Prison Service operates on a regional basis. Police forces and PCCs work across 43 Constabulary areas. Locally, this has added significant complexity and fragmentation across the criminal justice landscape, with different agencies working to different boundaries and unable to commit resources or budgets to a single locality.
Moving forward, a realignment of criminal justice agencies’ geographical boundaries based around constabulary areas or existing collaborated areas, for instance, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire (BCH) or the ‘Eastern Region’ would allow for some level of co-terminosity and alignment of priorities and resources.
Cross working could also be greatly assisted by criminal justice agencies moving to a more thematic approach - for instance around reducing reoffending or special focus areas including domestic abuse, violence or hate crime that brings all the agencies together to focus on joint outcomes around vulnerable people. Giving PCCs a greater role would enable the criminal justice system to engage with those most at risk of offending, rather than those who have already offended which offers the greatest potential to lead to transformation of the criminal justice system.