Privatised Probation System

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:06 pm on 4th March 2019.

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Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 5:06 pm, 4th March 2019

I am pleased to be called to address this urgent question, and fully understand why Richard Burgon has raised it. As the House will be aware, we have been looking very carefully at the future of probation services, and this gives me the opportunity briefly to set out the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, some of the challenges, and our response.

As the House will be aware, Transforming Rehabilitation was strongly influenced by a Labour pilot—the Peterborough pilot—which demonstrated that by bringing in non-state providers, concentrating on a cohort of short-sentence prisoners who had not previously been supervised and paying providers for reducing reoffending, it was possible to achieve significant improvements. Transforming Rehabilitation was a coalition Government commitment and built on those principles by contracting the private sector and others—in Durham Tees Valley, for example, that included the local authority—and undertaking to pay the providers if they were able to reduce reoffending. The contracts were left flexible to encourage innovation. This private model was applied only to low-risk offenders—high-risk offenders continued to be supervised in the usual way by the state. The new model has delivered in some ways, but as the National Audit Office has pointed out, it has not delivered in others.

There has been a reduction in the binary rate of reoffending, although there has been an increase in the separate frequency measure. Some 40,000 additional offenders are currently being supervised who were not supervised under the old system. Some innovation has come into the system, and it has saved the taxpayer money. Even though the hon. Gentleman would point out that through changes to the contracts, more money has gone in, we are forecast to spend significantly less than we originally anticipated—perhaps as much as £700 million less.

The programme was challenged by external factors, some of which were difficult to model and predict. For example, societal changes and different sentencing decisions by judges meant that the case load given to community rehabilitation companies shifted, and the accredited programmes that were allocated were fewer than expected. That meant that the income streams of those companies was less than anticipated. Broader issues such as drugs, housing and treatment programmes also made it difficult for providers to control all the factors in reoffending, which led to the companies losing significant sums of money. We have therefore taken a new approach that seeks to address all those problems.

We have just conducted a consultation and are carefully studying the responses. Our intention, first, is to remove the dependence in the new probation system on unpredictable case loads and to improve co-ordination with the national probation service. We are emphasising overall quality of service in future, not just the reoffending rate. We will be ending the existing contracts two years early. We will be setting minimum conditions for offender supervision, and we have invested over £20 million in through-the-gate services. Our objective, while retaining the benefits of flexibility and innovation, is to create a much higher-quality probation service that focuses on good-quality delivery and protects the public.