Administering justice by results

Since coming to power, the Coalition Government has made clear its intentions to radically reform the criminal justice system. At the heart of the Government’s proposals is a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ aimed at reducing the stubborn levels of recidivism amongst ex-offenders. Payment by results is the flagship programme that aims to deliver this by encouraging the development of an outcomes-based market in the provision of prison and probation services. By fostering collaboration between the public, private and voluntary sectors, the Government plans to implement a model where providers receive payment after they have demonstrated that their interventions reduce reoffending. The Reform-Home Group roundtable brought together public, private and charity representatives to discuss how the payment by results model could be practically implemented.

Crispin Blunt MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation, opened the discussion by outlining the diversity of pilots being trialled across the prison services, reiterating his commitment to apply the payment by results programme across the system by 2015. Rachel Byrne, Executive Director of Care and Support Services at Home Group, welcomed the Government’s approach, arguing that the Ministry of Justice had the opportunity to be a “real market-maker” with payment by results.

Building effective partnerships between the private, public and voluntary sectors was considered a significant challenge of payment by results. Rob Owen, Chief Executive of St. Giles Trust, spoke for many at the event when he commented that partners must seek to be intelligent and flexible regarding the organisational capacity of different players. Emily Bolton, Criminal Justice Director at Social Finance, contended that innovative financing models such as social impact bonds could help develop a competitive marketplace that favoured the most capable providers.

The key challenge of an outcomes-based payment model is defining what a successful outcome looks like. The seminar went on to question what measures would be used to determine if a particular scheme had been successful. Crispin Blunt MP was clear that for the payment by results model to gain momentum a simple measurement to gauge improvement must be in place. A straightforward binary measure would assess providers by their success at reducing reoffending and deliver cost savings by preventing individuals from re-entering the criminal justice system at a later juncture. Others at the event argued for alternative models that would gauge the success of a particular scheme by the frequency with which an individual reoffended or the severity of the offence that was committed. Linda Hennigan, Chief Executive of Bedfordshire Probation Trust, asserted that a binary measure as currently proposed disregarded the fact that all offences are not equally serious and that desistance from crime was shown to occur gradually rather than immediately after release from prison. However, applying these more complex measures posed their own challenges; such as attempting to categorise 10,000 different types of offence into scales of severity, as Rob Owen highlighted. Kate Steadman, Head of Government Strategy at Sodexo Justice Services, purported that the pilots provided an opportunity to determine the most appropriate models of delivery but that the Ministry of Justice should allow for the potential failure of some schemes. Rachel Byrne concluded by saying that whilst there was general optimism around payment-by-results, it was necessary for commissioners and providers to adapt to the lessons learnt from the pilots.

For payment by results to be effective, providers will require clarity about the outcomes they will be held accountable for and how they will be measured. The pilots currently underway should help to identify these outcomes and effective measurements. Providers must also be incentivised not to focus solely on the easiest cases. Once these conditions are in place the Government must allow providers the freedom to apply their expertise and deliver their outcomes using whatever methods they choose.