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Annual General Meeting

Minutes of the All-Party Penal Affairs Parliamentary Group held on 4 June 2013

Jeremy Wright MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice



Lord Ramsbotham, in the chair
Crispin Blunt MP

Lord Bradleye

Lord Dholakia
Lord Fellowes
Paul Goggins MP
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
Baroness Howe of Idlicote
Lord Judd
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone
Elfyn Llwyd MP
Baroness Masham
Claire Perry MP
Lord Taylor of Warwick

Jeremy Wright MP began by thanking the group for its invitation. He apologised to those members who had already heard much of what he was about to say in an earlier meeting. He thought it would be helpful to give a brief outline of the subject, allowing plenty of time for discussion. He continued: ‘The first thing to say is that we are all conscious of that fact that crime is down. That is to the credit of successive governments. But it seems to be clear that the crime we have got is committed repeatedly by the same people. So reoffending has to be the focus of what we do. It is because of the reoffending rates, which we all agree are too high, that we have tried to look again at the provision of rehabilitation, and what we would like to do differently. I don’t need to tell anybody here what those rates are: 50% for those leaving custody overall, 60% for those leaving custody after short sentences – that is the percentage for those who have reoffended within a year of leaving prison – and 70% of young offenders leaving custody. Those figures are of course far too high, so there is a clear need to make some changes, and to drive those rates down. That is what we seek to do.

That brings us on to the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda. One of the most important things that we need to do, which has been recognised for a long time as being necessary, is to bring into the ambit of rehabilitation some 50,000 offenders a year who don’t at the moment have access to very much at all. That is the group of people who receive sentences of twelve months or less. Bringing those people into the ambit of rehabilitation has a cost attached and we need to find the money to do that somehow. The way in which we have determined that it can best be done is to compete the provision of rehabilitation services for medium and low risk offenders, and to engage in the process of payment by results (PbR), and we are confident that the savings released by that process will be sufficient to pay for rehabilitation for that group who don’t at the moment receive any or very much rehabilitation or supervision. Again, it is important that we do engage them because they are the group with the higher rate of reoffending.

That’s the objective, and the logic behind what we do, and the desire for the system follows from that. I recognise that there are very significant design challenges in making sure that we operate a PbR system which avoids perverse incentives. We are all familiar with what those could be, and we don’t want to see a situation whereby providers taking on the work of rehabilitating a group of offenders only look after those whom is it easiest to help and leave aside entirely those it is more difficult to help. That is what has led us to the conclusion, following the consultation, that we should have a hybrid mechanism for payment, which is not just about binary measurement - did they stop reoffending or did they not? – but is also about progress: in other words, how many times did they reoffend? If that number comes down, then that will be rewarded too.

It is also important to avoid the perverse incentives around rehabilitation work that is done unimaginatively. We wanted see good new ideas coming into this space. We are very conscious that a lot of those good new ideas will come from the voluntary sector. We want to see partnerships formed between the voluntary sector, the private sector, and, we hope, spin outs from those currently working in probation trusts now. We can’t have probation trusts as they are currently constituted, operating in a system by themselves, because the money that would be put at risk would be state money. So they have to form themselves in a different way. But I am pleased to say that my colleagues in the Cabinet Office are offering assistance to a number of mutuals arising from the probation service, and we would expect to see them playing their part in the bidding process too.

So if we want to see good new ideas, and if we believe that those ideas will come from the voluntary sector, how do we avoid the next pitfall, which is that the smaller voluntary sector bodies aren’t able to maintain and sustain their position within the new landscape? The answer to that is two-fold. First of all we have to deal with the so-called ‘bid-candy’ problem: the idea that a larger private sector organisation will bring with them to the bid process smaller voluntary sector organisations and say ‘Look at the wonderful things these people do. Please consider the merits of what they do as part of our bid.’ But then in the longer term those smaller organisations get rather left behind. So it is important that we do something about that. And the way that we propose to do it is that when we assess bids, of course we will look at the quality of what people are offering to do for us; we will look at the financial aspects of what they are proposing to do for us. But we will also want to be sure that the arrangements they propose to us for working with those smaller voluntary sector organisations are sustainable over the long term. If we are not persuaded that they are, that will count against the bid in its entirety. So the first stage is an assessment of the bid, but we also want a robust contract management process that enables us to keep watch over whether that relationship is indeed being sustained. And if it’s not then we will want to do something about that. We are very keen to ensure not just that the small voluntary sector organisations are involved at the beginning of the process, but that they are still there and contributing at the end.

The other point that it is important for us to recognise, and that I think we have recognised from very early on, is the dynamic nature of risk. This is something that many of you have been concerned about, and that many people within the field have talked to us about. It of course isn’t the case that when we talk about different arrangements for those categorised as offering a high risk of causing serious harm to the public, and those categorised as medium or low risk, that everyone stays neatly within their boxes for ever more. There can be transference of risk, there can be change on risk, and we need a system capable of managing those changes. So what we wish to design is a system whereby the public sector probation service will retain responsibility for those high risk offenders, and if a medium or low-risk offender starts to display signs of their risk profile changing then they can be reassessed by the public sector probation service, and if the public sector probation officer deems it necessary they can be taken back into the direct management of the public sector probation service. We need to have a system capable of dealing with this.

The other thing I think it is worth saying is that if we really want to change lives, turn lives around – and that’s the whole purpose of what we are seeking to do here - we have to allow for a long enough period for that process to happen. The Offender Rehabilitation Bill, which starts its process in committee within the House of Lords tomorrow, will enable all providers of rehabilitation services to be guaranteed twelve months to work with every offender. It may be that the twelve months is spent differently with each type of offender, but we want to ensure that they have long enough to turn those lives around. That will apply equally to those on short sentences and that is because they can be some of the most difficult lives to turn around, and we need to allow the time for that to happen.  So that’s the purpose of a twelve month period of license and supervision in combination.

It is also the purpose of reordering the prison estate to make sure that we have resettlement prisons from which people are released into the area of the country in which they are to make their new lives. So the intention will be that each person will serve part of their sentence at a prison somewhere in the country which will suit their needs best, but the last part of their sentence will be served in the part of the country to which they will be released.  We will expect the provider of rehabilitation services to be in contact with them during that last custodial part of their sentence so that they can be helped through the gate out into the community, and part of the rehabilitation work we expect the provider to do with them can take place before they leave the prison gate. The reason for that is clear and obvious. There is at the moment a big danger that between arriving at the inside of the prison gate and leaving the outside of the prison gate is a very big chasm. People can fall into that chasm, go right back to their old ways of behaviour, their old friends, their old crimes. So we need to make sure that everything we do to help them through the gate and into the community we do effectively.

One final word if I may about what happens inside the prison. I am very conscious that as the minister responsible for prisons, and indeed for rehabilitation and probation, there is always a danger that when you talk about one you forget about the other. This has to be a process of rehabilitation that is continuous, from inside the prison, through the prison gate and out into the community. That means that you must not forget about what happens inside prison. Going backwards in the process, then, you will have picked up that there have been some changes to the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme that operates within prisons. The fundamental purpose for doing that is to make sure that every incentive, every lever we have within prison, is directed towards rehabilitation. Up to this point, we have had an IEP system which is largely about staying out of trouble and being rewarded for that. Now of course it is important that prisoners don’t punch the officers, or smash up their cells, and I want to make sure that those incentives remain within the system. But, just as important, if we are arranging, as we are, a whole range of rehabilitation services to support people in changing their lives, the least we can expect is that they do their bit. So whilst in prison we want to be clear with prisoners that if you want to earn your privileges, you must of course keep your nose clean and not punch the officers, but you must also engage in rehabilitation. You must also engage in education, in work, in drug treatment, in whatever it is you need to do in order to turn your life around. If you do those things and you engage in that rehabilitation then you will be able to access those additional privileges. If you don’t, you won’t.  So this is all about making sure that from those earliest stages of someone’s custodial sentence, rehabilitation is what we are about: and that process continues through the prison gate and out into the community. That is the consistent approach that we are applying, not just to policy within prisons but also policy when people leave prison, and all that we are doing about transforming rehabilitation. I will stop there, and happily take comments and questions.’