Chris Grayling’s 2013 probation reforms were ‘set up to fail’ and the number of offenders returned to prison had ‘skyrocketed’, a watchdog has warned. According to a scathing new report by the National Audit Office (NAO) into the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, the restructuring of probation services had failed to hit the Ministry of Justice’s own targets to cut reoffending and cancelling contracts with probation providers came at an additional cost to the taxpayer. The NAO predicts that the MoJ will pay ‘at least £467 million more than was required under the original contracts’.
Under the then justice secretary’s much trumpeted ‘rehabilitation revolution’, the MoJ created 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) in 2013 to manage low or medium risk offenders and the National Probation Service (NPS) to manage those posing higher risks.
‘The Ministry set itself up to fail in how it approached probation reforms. Its rushed roll-out created significant risks that it was unable to manage. These have had far reaching consequences. Not only have these failings been extremely costly for taxpayers, but we have seen the number of people on short sentences recalled to prison skyrocket.’
Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO
Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said that ‘in its haste to rush through the reforms’ the Moj had ‘failed to deliver the transformation it promised’. Unison’snational officer Ben Priestley described the NAO report as a ‘devastating critique of a catastrophic privatisation’.
As the NAO reports, the MoJ was forced to amend CRC contracts in 2017 to ‘increase their income and stabilise failing services’ but in July the follow year announced the contracts would be terminated 14 months early, in December 2020.
According to the NAO, by March 2017 there was a 2.5% reduction in the proportion of reoffenders since 2011’ but a 22% overall increase in the number of reoffences per reoffender. The Ministry expected CRCs to reduce reoffending by 3.7% over the life of the contracts delivering a £10.4 billion of economic benefits. By March 2017, just six of the 21 CRCs achieved significant reductions in the number of reoffenders.’
The number of people recalled to prison has increased by 47% as a result of statutory rehabilitation being extended to those serving sentences of less than 12 months. Between January 2015 and September 2018, offenders on short sentences as a percentage of those recalled to prison rose from 3% to 36%.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation found CRCs had performed poorly with nine of 13 inspections assessing CRCs negatively. The NPS faired better however the spending watchdog noted that the NPS had been ‘constrained by severe staff shortages and high workloads’. ‘In August 2018, its overall staff vacancy rate was 11%, and as high as 20% in London,’ it added.
According to the watchdog, the reforms were introduced ‘too quickly’. ‘By March 2018, CRCs faced collective losses of £294 million over the life of the contracts, compared to expected profits of £269 million, increasing the risk of providers withdrawing services, performance deteriorating further and potentially multiple providers becoming insolvent. Terminating these contracts will cost taxpayers at least £171 million,’ it said; adding that the MoJ would pay ‘at least £467 million more than was required under the original contracts’.