The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has raised concerns about the Ministry of Justice’s efforts to reform the way offender rehabilitation services are run, saying the department has failed to properly address major ICT problems.
The reforms aim at reducing reoffending rates through improved probation services – Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
The MPs said that so-called Community Rehabilitation Companies introduced to the system as part of the Transforming Probation reforms faced significant barriers, including delays in accessing the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) ICT system.
The PAC said that although the new regime was originally intending to save £12bn over seven years, the ICT issues alone had so far required compensation payments of more than £20m from the department, branding the probation IT services “inefficient and unreliable”.
The latest findings build on a National Audit Office report published in April, which found that Transforming Probation’s splitting of services between the privately-owned CRCs and the National Probation Service had resulted in “unsurprising frictions” between public and private-sector staff.
The MoJ announced its “rehabilitation revolution” in 2012, and in June 2014 it split 35 probation trusts into the NPS and 21 new CRCs. The public sector NPS now advises courts on sentencing all offenders and manages those presenting higher risks. CRCs supervise offenders presenting a low- of medium-risk of harm.
However, the PAC said that more than two years into the transformation, there was no clear data on how the new arrangements were performing, and none was expected to be available until the end of 2017.
Committee chair Meg Hillier said the MoJ had set itself an ambitious target for the programme, which was still a work in progress at a time when the department was looking to halve its administration costs and drive reforms to the courts and prisons services.
“We are disappointed that, given the human and economic costs of reoffending, gaps in data mean the overall effectiveness of the reforms cannot be properly assessed,” she said.
“Reintegrating offenders with the community is vitally important yet the quality of arrangements to support this is patchy.
“There is also a continued failure to provide hard-pressed probation staff with adequate computer systems.”
The committee said that, despite the importance of joint working across probation services, the relevant ICT systems were “inefficient, unreliable and hard to use”.
They singled out the NOMS’ nDelius case management system as a particular source of frustration that put “added pressure on hard-pressed staff”, and highlighted a £23m compensation payment made to CRCs by the ministry over delays in providing an access gateway to the NOMS ICT system.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the PAC report appeared to indicate that services were getting worse, increasing the risk to the public and letting down staff in the process
“The break-up of the public probation service was supposed to turn lives around, reduce reoffending and make us all safer,” he said.
“Even though the probation watchdog waited more than a year for the new arrangements to bed down before carrying out local inspections, the reports we have seen show that the quality of work has declined.
“The Howard League warned that ministers were taking a huge risk by dismantling a service that was performing well. We remain of that view.”
Justice minister Sam Gyimah said a comprehensive review of the probation service was being undertaken, with the aim of improving outcomes for offenders and communities.
“Public protection is our top priority and we will not hesitate to take the necessary action to make sure our vital reforms are being delivered to reduce reoffending, cut crime and prevent future victims,” he said.