The failure to involve charities in the rehabilitation system to a greater extent is of "deep concern", a cross-party group of MPs has said.
In a report from the Justice Select Committee on the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, published today, MPs say that although a key aim of the original reforms was to involve more charities, fewer charities work in rehabilitation than before the reforms were introduced.
Transforming Rehabilitation was introduced in 2013 by Chris Grayling, who was justice secretary at the time. It set up community rehabilitation companies, or CRCs, which were to be run by private or third-sector organisations, to handle low and medium-risk offenders.
But the select committee’s report says the reforms are unlikely ever to deliver an effective or viable probation service and calls for a government review of the programme’s future.
The report says there is a lack of transparency about which charities are involved in probation contracts, and it recommends that the Ministry of Justice should publish more information on probation supply chains.
The government should also consider incentivising smaller charities to get involved in the probation system, the report says.
Contractual barriers that prevent charities getting involved in probation, including those related to subcontracts, should also be examined by the Ministry of Justice, according to the report.
"In our view, the government has failed to open up the probation market, a key aim of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms," the report says.
"The decreased involvement of the voluntary sector, especially that of smaller local organisations, is deeply regrettable and reduces the quality and array of services available to individuals on probation. This has resulted in fewer local and specialist services being offered."
The criticisms of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme echo those made by the National Audit Office in 2016, which said the government had oversold the voluntary sector’s prospects for winning probation service contracts after most of the available contracts went to the private sector.
Responding to the select committee’s report, Rory Stewart, the prisons and probation minister, said: "This was a significant programme of reform. Fewer people are reoffending and there have been some innovative and impressive programmes.
"However, we accept that there have been challenges and it is clear that CRC services do need to improve. We are currently in commercial discussions with providers and will consider all possible options to ensure we deliver this improvement."
The government said that although a "range" of voluntary sector organisations were involved in CRCs, it recognised that "challenging financial circumstances" meant CRCs had failed to invest in their supply chains to the extent first expected.
It also said it was considering how to increase the participation of charities in probation in the future.
Jacob Tas, chief executive of the social justice charity Nacro, said: "The report is right to highlight that the voluntary sector is less involved in probation than before the reforms and that this is of ‘deep concern’.
"Service delivery charities – from large to small – have long made a huge contribution to supporting rehabilitation and helping individuals and families move on to lead crime-free lives.
"Embedded in communities and trusted, experienced in finding innovative and cost-effective solutions to society’s problems and with all services driven by charitable objectives, the voluntary sector has a unique contribution to make."