The criminal justice umbrella body Clinks has called on the government to ensure that charities are more involved in providing probation services after the Ministry of Justice decided to end its current outsourced contracts two years early.
The MoJ said today that it would end its community rehabilitation company contracts in 2020, instead of 2022, then launched a consultation to strengthen the Transforming Rehabilitation programme and design new and improved CRC contracts.
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 scheme has been widely criticised since its introduction, with a Justice Select Committee report last month arguing 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.
A report published by Clinks earlier this year said that voluntary sector involvement in the MoJ programme was lower than claimed, unsustainable and required many charities to dip into their own reserves to maintain services.
In today’s announcement, the MoJ said it would consult on reforming the Transforming Rehabilitation programme and invest £22m in existing CRC contracts.
It said it accepted that probation providers had "faced significant challenges" under the programme and wanted to use "the lessons learnt so far to put in place improved services in the future, with more effective commercial arrangements".
The government will also try to improve joint working between CRCs and the voluntary sector, as well as other local partners, the government said.
National Probation Service and CRC areas would be aligned, the government said, creating ten new probation regions in England, which would simplify and strengthen relationships with local charities and other partners.
Clinks would be hosting a number of voluntary sector events during the consultation period, the government said, and the consultation would close on 21 September.
Anne Fox, chief executive of Clinks, said: "Looking to the future, this is an opportunity to address serious limitations in the current system and ensure that the voluntary sector’s knowledge and skills are properly utilised in support of the high-quality probation services needed.
"We will, however, need to be confident that the final proposals adequately address the current problems in the system and do not represent tweaking around the edges. We look forward to working with the Ministry of Justice to ensure this is not the case."
David Gauke, the justice secretary, said: "I am determined to have a probation service that protects the public, commands the confidence of the courts and, ultimately, reduces reoffending.
"We want to see less reliance on ineffective short prison terms. In order to achieve this, courts must have confidence that probation services will deliver tough community sentences – sentences that punish, but also help those who commit crime to turn their lives around and stop offending.
"I am confident that the proposals set out in this consultation will play a major role in helping us to achieve this aim."