Pact Welcomes Ministry Of Justice Approach To Probation



Pact welcomes Ministry of Justice approach to probation but calls for bigger role for the voluntary sector

As a non-profit organization delivering frontline services to reduce the risk of re-offending by people leaving prison, we recognize a number of important flaws in the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ programme, and we broadly welcome the Government’s announcement regarding bringing Offender Supervision back into public ownership under a re-unified National Probation Service. 

At the time it was being developed by Minister Chris Grayling, we raised a number of concerns, about the splitting of probation between the National Probation Service and the Community Rehabilitation Companies, about the practical realities of ‘payment by results’, and about the scale and pace of a reform programme that was untested. Whilst we openly shared and maintained our concerns, many of which have been seen to have been well-founded, we nonetheless decided to submit proposals for the delivery of services within supply chains to a number of the companies bidding for this work, several of whom were successful, and some of whom followed through and issued us contracts. It was and remains our charitable mission to support people to make a fresh start. The people we serve, and the public, had no say in whether they were part of a public or private sector service. And so we engaged with ‘TR’, and followed our service users.

Across England and Wales, our staff and volunteers engage with men and women in prison prior to their release date, meet them on the day of release, and provide essential mentoring and advocacy support to assist them with the most basic of needs – without which many will simply re-offend within a matter of days or weeks. Many of our clients are of ‘no fixed abode’, some have addiction issues, and some have multiple and complex needs, and so this is extremely challenging work. In some areas, we have a ‘family first’ model, to engage with families in the community, as it is often the case that being re-united with family members is a prisoner’s best hope of resettlement and rehabilitation. In some regions, we have succeeded after months of bureaucratic and time-consuming negotiations in establishing effective arrangements whereby we now also deliver services for National Probation Service clients – who pose a higher risk to the public.

The models of service we deliver were developed by Pact and some other charities and community chaplaincies decades before the Ministry of Justice’s Transforming Rehabilitation ‘Revolution’.  We first started supporting people as they left prison, and their families, in 1898. We worked with Probation Trusts to establish some of the first professionally managed mentoring programmes, community courts, and restorative justice programmes. Some people may recall our groundbreaking ‘JustPeople’ programme, a partnership with Devon & Cornwall Probation for example. Many of our staff and volunteers have backgrounds in probation services, social work, mental health, education and other professions. We have never sought to replace the role of professional probation officers. Our role has always been, and will always be, to enhance, assist, support and add value to the work of probation.  

In spite of the many reported issues, we continue to enjoy great partnership working with staff in the NPS and in the CRCs, the vast majority of whom are working hard to deliver the best possible services with very limited resources, and within a very challenging set of commissioning arrangements. And we are very proud of the work of our teams of staff and well trained and supervised volunteers, without whom, many people would be walking out of the prison gate with no one to meet them, and would be left to sink or swim. 

And so we speak with authentic experience of delivering the most challenging frontline services  - with the former Probation Services, Probation Trusts, and now the split CRC/NPS arrangement, when we sound a note of caution about the approach the Government is taking (as we did when the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms were first announced). 

We offer these initial reflections:

  1. The last set of Government ‘reforms’ involved massive funding cuts. Some Community Rehabilitation Companies cut their workforces by a third. Keeping our communities safe cannot be done well ‘on the cheap’. Whether in the public sector or private sector, if the number of probation staff is not substantially increased, it will continue to operate under great strain, and the ongoing support and assistance of the Voluntary & Community sector will therefore be business-critical.
  2. The independent, non-profit sector of charities, community interest companies, community chaplaincies and other community groups are fundamentally different to the private sector. We are driven by our mission, our vision, and our values, and not by profit. We have a critical role to play, and could do much more. It is the Voluntary and Community Sector which has pioneered and delivered ‘Through the Gate’ resettlement mentoring, family & relationship support for people in the justice system (as recommended by Lord Farmer), and other solutions. We are the voluntary sector, but we are not amateur. We hope to be engaged with in a genuine, meaningful way, and heard, as expert, professional practitioners, informed by the lived experiences of the people we serve, and by decades of painstakingly developed professional practice.  We hope that the Ministry of Justice will work closely with us, and with CLINKS, the umbrella organization for the voluntary sector working in the criminal justice system, to ensure that we can continue to deliver excellent services to reduce re-offending and protect the public which have been shown to work. We ask for careful, receptive, meaningful consultation.
  3. The Government has a moral and ethical duty to support and sustain a vibrant voluntary and community sector, and to act as a ‘Market Steward’. It also makes sense. We connect the justice system with the communities into which prisoners are released and in which people with convictions are supervised. However good our justice system is, it is widely accepted that many of the solutions to reducing re-offending are not found within the criminal justice system, but through the capacity of individuals to forge and maintain strong healthy relationships, positive identities, and a sense of belonging, as well as stable accommodation and employment. For many women and men with convictions, and for their families, navigating this complexity requires support, encouragement, expertise, and resilience. It required people who are authentic and dedicated to the work. We welcome the Government’s direction of travel and restoration of a professional National Probation Service to supervise all people with convictions. Pact, and other Voluntary & Community Sector agencies, will offer our continued support, but this time around, we respectfully request that we are listened to.