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The new probation landscape

Why the voluntary sector matters if we are going to reduce reoffending

The Ministry of Justice is in the process of implementing an extensive programme of reform for the delivery of probation services across England and Wales. As part of this agenda, which is designed to reduce ‘stubbornly high rates of reoffending’, work with approximately 236,000 low and medium-risk offenders will be contracted out to private and voluntary organisations and statutory support will be extended to prisoners on short sentences. Through the introduction of competition to this market and a ’payment by results’ element to new contracts, it is hoped that service providers will find innovative and effective ways of reducing reoffending and cutting crime.

At the CSJ, we have an alliance of over 350 voluntary sector organisations who we work closely with to inform our research. We have seen some excellent examples of the ways in which these organisations can deliver the transformational services that will be critical if we are to successfully reduce reoffending. These voluntary organisations often bring something unique to the areas they work in, such as a strong connection with communities and an acute responsiveness to the distinct needs of individuals. As a result, the CSJ believes it is essential that the probation reforms develop in such a way as to facilitate the inclusion of the voluntary sector in order to make the most of the skills and experience the best organisations have to offer.

If these reforms are to be successful they will need to consist of strong and resilient partnerships between the private and voluntary sectors. Work is underway to help develop relationships between private and voluntary organisations through, for example, the Ministry of Justice’s registration process for tier II and III potential partners, and the creation of the Cabinet Office funded Partnership Finder. However, more needs to be done to ensure that there is a good understanding of the make-up of the voluntary sector and what they are good at, for too little is known at present. This report is designed to help bolster that understanding, and sets out important details: the nature of the organisations that make-up the sector; why they’re important; and what they think about the reforms.

The analysis in this report is based on evidence gathered through a review of existing literature; a wide-ranging survey of voluntary organisations working in criminal justice, which received 173 responses; and evidence gathering sessions with voluntary organisations and those who work with them.

We hope this short report will be of use to all those involved in these probation reforms. For organisations considering bidding as prime providers and the Ministry of Justice itself, we hope that the overview of the voluntary sector, their strengths and perspectives will inform thinking around partnership formation and the design of standard sub-contracts and market stewardship principles. For the voluntary sector we hope that by presenting their make-up, strengths and views, this paper provides a useful document to aid them in considering how best they can engage with these reforms and play a vital role in helping to reduce reoffending.