Transforming Rehabilitation: evolution not revolution

9 December 2015

In 2012 in a bid to tackle high reoffending rates, then Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, promised a “rehabilitation revolution”. His landmark Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) programme vowed to drive innovation in probation service provision through the involvement of private and third sector experts.

The programme also extended supervision to short sentence offenders: at 58 per cent, the reoffending rate of prisoners serving less than a year was almost double that of those serving longer sentences.

However, as with many major change programmes, the devil is in the implementation. More than 12 months following its inception, the roll out of TR remains slow and new models of provision patchy. For those working in the sector the programme vision still carries much promise, but worryingly, exactly what the model should look like in practice remains unknown.

There are five key challenges that the National Offender Management Service should address to ensure the full potential of TR is realised:

1)    Cultural change

While TR represents a radical overhaul of probation structures and systems, older practices and cultural norms remain entrenched. In its 2014 review of TR, the Justice Inspectorate highlighted a continuing need to eradicate older ways of working and streamline processes across probation services. They also argued that supporting staff through the period of transition is key to success.

2)    Data Sharing

TR was supposed to deliver an integrated service. Instead, incompatible IT systems and an inability to effectively share data about service users has hampered this. For many offenders, this means joined up support is provided only up until release rather than ‘through the gate’ into the community as intended. Probation providers are still sometimes unable to access information about courses begun or treatment received by offenders whilst in custody.

3)    Fragmentation

Whilst the increased competition brought by new market entrants is positive, splitting probation provision between the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) providers and National Probation Service (NPS) has proved problematic. The interface between the two new organisations in each area varies both in levels of communication and the quality of working relationships. Achieving consistent ways of working between CRCs and NPS is essential for TR’s success.

4)    Duplication

The introduction of multiple new service providers has brought a danger of increased duplication. Employment in particular is an area where multiple service providers overlap – for example the Work Programme, Skills Funding Agency, National Careers, CRC representatives and third sector organisations all offer support.

Positively, within some individual prisons or CRCs practical solutions are emerging. Informal agreements between contractors, probation officers and third sector workers have in places led to more coordinated working. There remains, however, a lack of clarity at a strategic level about the roles and responsibilities of these different services. In some areas, confusion and fear of duplication has also led to gaps in provision, with no single organisation taking responsibility.

5)    Transparency

As a consequence of some of the fragmentation of rehabilitation services there is a lack of transparency for offenders. For service users this is problematic as it leads to an inability to clearly and easily understand where to access help and from whom. In the community this lack of clarity is particularly worrying as the initial days following an offender’s release are a vital period in which they need support.

While it is important to acknowledge that it is still early days and that transformation on this scale cannot happen overnight, it seems clear that TR has not yet delivered the revolution it promised. The prize for getting TR right is sizeable. To ensure his predecessor’s vision is realised Michael Gove must make tackling these issues a priority.

Elizabeth Crowhurst, Researcher, Reform

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