As I tweeted a couple of days ago: in a world where a joined up justice system remains a pipe dream, to fragment it further into NPS & CRCs is dangerously incompetent
Evidently the government is speeding ahead with these reforms in the hope that all will be done, dusted and 'unpickable' in time for the next election (which I presume the government is expecting to lose?) This speed is unseemly and high risk. The chance of significant cracks opening up in a service that is already straining to make rehabilitation work is, in my view, highly likely.
But allow me to take a longer term view and imagine that the new arrangements remain for some years to come. These are my predictions of what will happen:
- There will be slow but inexorable exodus of experienced probation officers from both the Community Rehabilitation Companies and the National Probation Service. These will be replaced by more junior staff with fewer qualifications.
- Rehabilitation rates (as measured by re-convictions for example) will not improve in most areas and, in a few will, worsen. The government of the day will ensure there are one or two flagships who do manage to make improvements (but the level of central support to achieve this will be glossed over).
- Criminal justice agency partners (the other parts of the National Offender Management Service, the police, local authorities, housing agencies etc) will become very frustrated that where there was one organisation to liaise with there will now be two or even three if you include the contract management structure from regional NOMS.
- The CRCs will develop robust (but covert) strategies to get more of their clients reassessed as high risk so that they can shift responsibility over to the NPS. They will do this saying publicly that it is all about ensuring community safety. Privately they will be glad that this will improve their rehab rates (and therefore Payments by Results) and reduce their workload.
- In contrast the NPS will do all that it can to assess 'objectively' an offender as low to medium risk and make the CRC pick them up as a client. However, this will increase the chances that offenders will be 'breached' and sent back to jail. More offenders will return to jail as a consequence.
- Some offenders will fall between stools.
- Staff at an operational level will become even better at 'gaming' the targets & objectives to ensure their backs are covered.
- Payment by Results will be replaced as the owners of the CRCs will quickly realise they are not getting any return on their investments.
- Overtime, the CRCs will be bought out such that there will only be between two and three owners. These organisations might be hedge funds or some of the existing private sector players in the justice 'market place'. Some of the architects of this new model who currently work in the Ministry of Justice will find their way onto the boards of these companies.
- The National Probation Service will creak and be broken down again into smaller local units. These too will then be outsourced and sold off. The remaining vestiges of NOMS will struggle to contract manage the new CRCs and the new local NPS mark two units