Last week the centrepiece of the Queen’s Speech was the Government’s plans to reform prisons to “give individuals a second chance.” The announcements that prison governors would be given “unprecedented freedom” and that old prisons would be replaced with new ones were not new. Within his first couple of months as Justice Secretary, Michael Gove argued that “one of the biggest brakes on progress in our prisons is the lack of operational autonomy and genuine independence” afforded governors. In February this year, the Prime Minister announced that six “Reform Prisons” would be created this year to pilot increased autonomy.
The aim of the reforms is improved reoffending rates. The Government is right to be focused on this: 46 per cent of people leaving custody reoffend within a year and this figure has barely changed in over a decade.
The Government hopes that devolving greater powers to governors to decide the best interventions for their prison populations will lead to innovation, which in turn will mean improved outcomes. Governors will surely know better than Whitehall what actually works. It also makes testing and learning easier.
The reforms are therefore welcome. But they are far from sufficient if a step change in reoffending is to be achieved. Evidence clearly shows that offender interventions need to be delivered in the right place at the right time, and continuity of case management is key. The more activities are split across different case managers or services, the less engaged offenders are likely to be, and thus the less effective the contact.
This requires a seamless, integrated model of offender management across prisons and probation. Creating autonomous prisons may break the Whitehall bureaucracy, but it does not help deliver a genuinely integrated system.
Reform’s report out today – authored by Kevin Lockyer, a former prison governor and senior official in the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), and Richard Heys, an economist who has worked in the Ministry of Justice – sets out a blueprint for how a genuinely integrated offender management system could work.
Local commissioning, local solutions: devolving offender management argues that all prisons should be made Reform Prisons, but that this should be just the first step in a much more radical change programme. It states that all offender management services – including prison places, probation, and mental health and addiction treatment – should be commissioned locally. Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) have a democratic mandate to change criminal justice services in order to reduce crime and as such are ideally suited to take on this role.
This means scrapping or streamlining the national institutions that currently run or oversee prison and probation services. Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), run by a mixture of private and third sector organisations, already deliver probation services for low- and medium-risk offenders and should be given the high-risk offenders currently reserved for the National Probation Service.
Prisons and CRCs should then be encouraged to form Local Rehabilitation Trusts (LRTs). This local delivery vehicle would drive service integration and offer end-to-end service provision to PCCs.
A Criminal Justice Regulator should be established, along the lines of other sector regulators such as Monitor, to set and monitor standards in LRTs and standalone prisons and CRCs. The regulator would replace the current messy model of multiple inspection bodies.
These reforms collectively make NOMS redundant. After supporting the successful role out of the new model, NOMS should be disbanded and a much smaller Offender Rehabilitation Strategy Unit formed to advise ministers.
Moving the reoffending needle will require wholesale reform of the offender management model. Evidence shows success in rehabilitating offenders requires consistent and integrated interventions. And effective resettlement means local solutions to the drivers of offending behaviour. The Government should be commended on their determination to make prisons work, but success requires much better join up between prisons and probation.
Charlotte Pickles, Deputy Director and Head of Research, Reform