Probation – all change

The Government announced on 27 July that it’s ending the contracts of the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) in 2020, two years earlier than expected and will have in place new CRC contracts by the end of 2020. This has obvious implications for us as partners in Purple Futures creating and managing third sector supply chains across 5 CRCs.

Alongside this, Government have published a consultation process closing on 21 September which can be accessed here –  which outlines the vision for the shape of probation delivery post-2020. The proposals also include some exciting developments with regard to Through the Gate provision, and a renewed focus on the importance of face-to-face contact with service users – both of which we welcome.

Government want to hear from interested parties on its plans to re-design probation and wants to hear from you if you have a view on topics such as improving the continuity of supervision, frequency of offender contact, post-sentence supervision, and engagement between courts and CRCs.

The decision to terminate contracts early has not come as a surprise. The warning shots have been coming thick and fast, culminating in June with a House of Commons Justice Committee report which called for a new probation model. All CRCs have, for a variety of reasons, been struggling financially, even though overall they have done a good job: a reduction of two percentage points in the reoffending rates of individuals they supervise; and 40,000 extra offenders a year receiving support and supervision on release from prison is no small achievement. But unforeseen changes in the types of offenders entering the courts and the sentences they have been receiving have significantly eroded CRCs’ anticipated income.

The Justice Committee also criticised the lack of involvement of the Third Sector: “The voluntary sector is less involved in probation than they were before the TR [Transforming Rehabilitation] reforms were implemented. This is of deep concern to us given the real benefits that the voluntary sector, especially smaller organisations, can bring to probation. There is a lack of transparency on which voluntary sector organisations are involved in probation contracts. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice publishes more information on probation supply chains and considers what benefits might be gained from reintroducing targets for voluntary sector involvement. We also recommend that the Government should consider whether involving some of the smaller, more specialised voluntary sector organisations could be incentivised.” Purple Futures has always recognised the value that the third sector can bring in reducing reoffending and 3SC offers a gateway to the third sector managing third sector supply chains delivering rehabilitative services across our 5 CRCs, but this is not the case universally.

This move could potentially widen the scope for third sector providers to become involved with the rehabilitation of low and medium risk ex-offenders. Government recognise that it has been difficult for smaller voluntary sector organisations to engage in service delivery as not all areas have a dedicated 3SC supply chain manager type role to support such organisations to become involved. Government have stated that in future arrangements they want to do “much more to facilitate the participation of the voluntary sector in the delivery of rehabilitation and resettlement services”. According to the Government: “CRC and NPS areas will be aligned, with ten new probation regions in England, simplifying and strengthening ties with key local partners and creating opportunities to co-commission rehabilitation services with PCCs.” It is hoped there will be more scope for the third sector to bring fresh, innovative ideas to the delivery of services across all CRCs.

Gauke has said: “I am determined to have a probation service that protects the public, commands the confidence of the courts and ultimately reduces reoffending…We want to see less reliance on ineffective short prison terms, and in order to achieve this courts must have confidence that probation services will deliver tough community sentences – sentences that punish, but also help those who commit crime to turn their lives around and stop offending.”

At 3SC we will be looking to build on our excellent work as part of Purple Futures since the CRCs were launched. We have supported and enabled many third sector organisations to be in our TR supply chains, many of whom would not have been able to do this without our support. At 3SC we are committed to the delivery of probation services and will be looking to compete for the new contracts.

John Swinney, Chair