Opinion: Are we transforming rehabilitation?

On Tuesday the London ‘Standard’ had the depressing headline “Rioters in new crime wave”. According to official statistics 1593 of the 3914 people charged or cautioned by the Met following the riots in August 2011 have since reoffended.

At our Autumn Conference in the month following the riots, I raised concerns as a Haringey magistrate that a knee-jerk approach was being taken to sentencing, with courts sitting overnight, dishing out custodial sentences as fast as they could. Prisons became overcrowded, sometimes with three prisoners sharing a cell meant for one; and precious little rehabilitation was going on.

Over the last year or so the Ministry of Justice, with Lib Dem support, has been rolling out a programme called ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’.  This programme breaks up the current probation service of 35 individual probation trusts into a National Probation Service to deal with high risk offenders, and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) responsible for the management of low to medium risk offenders. The work of the CRCs is being outsourced to private companies with some involvement of specialist charities. At the same time the government is introducing mandatory 12 month supervision for all offenders released from prison, regardless of the length of the sentence.  This supervision will be delivered by the CRCs.

There are many problems with this reorganisation. Prisoners do not stay neatly in one category of risk – if they move from medium to high risk, they will now need to be transferred across two different probation organisations. The majority of the offenders that I see as a magistrate have complex problems that underlie their offending – most often a combination of mental health and substance abuse. The work needed to rehabilitate these offenders is not trivial and I am concerned that with projected caseloads, the CRCs will only be able to deliver superficial interventions. The companies running the new CRCs include the likes of major services organisations Sodexo and Interserve who will of course be looking to maximise profits. Will they be prepared to do the long term, two steps forward, one step back work that rehabilitating drug addicts requires?

The response I’ve had when I’ve raised these concerns is that ‘payment by results’ will ensure that the CRCs reduce re-offending. However there is as yet no evidence that this approach works – the Work Programme has had poor results with ‘harder to help’ long term unemployed.

Depressingly the prison population is 85,280 almost the same as it was in May 2010, despite a fall in crime. There has been a lot of good policy work around Crime presented at recent Lib Dem Conferences but probation and rehabilitation is the one area where a new approach is needed.

* Cara Jenkinson is Vice-Chair of Haringey Liberal Democrats and PPC for Enfield North

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  • I am not sure how many people are in prison for things like not paying a TV licence, shoplifting or fraud, but could we reduce the size of the prison population by not putting people in prison for anything other than violent or sexual offences? This would give prison staff more time to work with serious offenders. For example, I thought putting Chris Huhne. Vicky Pryce and former Labour MP Denis Macshane in prison was excessive.

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Feb '15 - 5:38pm

    I totally agree that CRC’s will only be able to deliver superficial interventions.

    According to the, Who Cares ? Trust, 23% of the prison population has been in care, and almost 40% of prisoners of under 21 were in care as children ( as opposed to 2% of the general population who spend time in prison), I cannot believe that sustained rehabilitation can be delivered at the cost and within the time scale that is envisaged given the long term complex problems that lead to much offending.

  • paul barker 12th Feb '15 - 8:58pm

    Actually I would have drawn a different conclusion from The Standards figures anyway. Considering the seriousness of the Riots, for only 2 in 5 of those involved to have been reconvicted in the following 4 years seems quite a good result. They could have said that 60% had stayed out of trouble but that wouldnt be News in their terms. The idea that 400 offences a year in a city of 8 Million constitutes a “Crime Wave” is fairly silly but “Crime Ripple” wouldnt sound as good.

  • To answer the author’s question are we transforming our rehabilitation system, the answer would be no.

    Even if you took liberal measures like not using jail when the criminal wasn’t a danger to others and legalising soft drugs and treating addiction to hard drugs like a medical issue you would not change the rehabilitation system, you would just end up with less people in jail, which is of course good, but would make those in jail less likely to re-offend when they got out.

    To stop re-offending most of the work would have to be done when the person was let out of jail, not when they were there. You’d have to stop their criminal record affecting them so much and get them into work etc…

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