Cancellation of probation pilot shows flaws in new government policy

The pilot of a ‘social impact bond’ (SIB) probation scheme involving offenders leaving HMP Peterborough Prison is ending early, despite SIBs being promoted by the government as heralding a rehabilitation revolution. The then Prisons Minister in 2010, Crispin Blunt, visited HMP Peterborough to launch the scheme explaining: “This payment by results pilot is both innovative and imaginative. I am delighted to be launching it at HMP Peterborough today.” The pilot, along with another in Doncaster, were used as the premise to begin the process of privatising probation services.

The pilot was due to run until 2017, but is now finishing in 2015. The reason for this, according to the government, is because of the roll-out of Transforming Rehabilitation (TR). TR is the government’s restructuring of probation services, whereby the provision of services to low and medium risk offenders (70% of provision), is due to be opened up to private companies and voluntary organisations, on a payment-by-results basis. High risk offenders will be supervised by the public sector, which indicates that the government recognises the serious risk to public safety of outsourcing probation services.

There has been a ream of criticism of this restructuring, not least the fact that individuals posing a significant risk to the public could end up being supervised by private companies (the majority of the current bidders to deliver services) such as Capita, A4E and Amey, that have little or no experience and expertise in managing offenders in the community, nor of assessing risk.

A briefing of the interim findings of the Peterborough pilot, by Les Huckfield Research, can be seen here, while the data from the Ministry of Justice can be seen here. The results show that re0ffending has been reduced by 8.4% for offenders released from Peterborough, compared against a national control group. This figure is below the target which would trigger payment for the investors (philanthropic organisations); a reduction of 10% would be required for this to happen. In an SIB, the investors carry the risk, rather than the provider of the service; under TR the provider carries the risk. Though the investors are expected to be paid a final payment at the end of the pilot, whether they will get a return on investment (the incentive given to investors), is unknowable.

While the Peterborough pilot has been ongoing, the data we have linked to above also covers the payment-by-results pilot at HMP Doncaster Prison. The Doncaster pilot has a model fairly similar to that proposed under TR (while different in a few respects), and is being delivered by a partnership of outsourcing company Serco and social business Catch 22. The results from this pilot were just at a rate that the pilot did not lose money – with a reconviction rate among offenders in the 12 months following their release of a still staggeringly high 52.2%; a reduction of 5.7% from the baseline figure in 2009. The reconviction rate among offenders with sentences longer than 12 months actually increased in Doncaster, at 1.8%.

The Doncaster model is the type of approach the government wishes to replicate nationally but, relatively, with even less resources and severe budget constraints, and for a lot more offenders.

The Peterborough pilot involved volunteers who expressed a wish to participate and who were on short sentences and prison-based, as opposed to being on an enforced sentence, which will be the case under Transforming Rehabilitation. As such, it is worrying that the results were not more encouraging from this pilot. Napo has consistently pointed out that any comparisons between the pilots and national probation services are completely wrong to make, and have challenged the government on the rationale to the pilots. Under Transforming Rehabilitation, which will involve the abolition of Probation Trusts and their replacement with Community Rehabiliation Companies (CRCs), the latter will have much reduced budgets than their predecessors, but with a much increased workload.

There has been some speculation as to why the pilots are ending early. What we do know is that in contrast to the Peterborough pilot, Transforming Rehabilitation will involve a lot of private investment, while many raise concerns that a scale-up of the SIB model would probably involve much more private, rather than social finance. We also know that the flaws within both pilots at the very least suggest that an immediate halt to the current plans to privatise the majority of probation services under TR is essential.

Our joint union campaign, Speak up for Justice, is calling for a wholesale review of the outsourcing of justice services.

Why not sign our petition to Chris Grayling and Theresa May, calling on them to stop gambling with our justice system –
Speak up for Justice

Posted in News

Follow us

Justice is under attack

The government is fragmenting the justice system, privatising policing, probation and prison services, closing courts, slashing the legal aid budget and making drastic cuts to funding. This will undermine the system, reduce access to justice and put public safety at risk.

Find out more

The attack on justice: Slideshow
View our animated presentation - The Attack on Justice: Voices from the front line.