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Community Sentences and Probation Consultation

Volume 542: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2012

I am today publishing proposals for consultation in two key areas of the justice reform agenda: sentences in the community and the shape of probation services that deliver them. These proposals are set out in full in the consultation papers “Punishment and Reform: Effective Community Sentences” and Punishment and Reform: Effective Probation Services” respectively.

There is an urgent need to reform our criminal justice system in order to improve public safety. Reoffending rates remain too high despite recent improvements. Almost half of all adult offenders reoffend within a year of leaving custody. Reoffending of offenders sentenced to less than 12 months in prison is estimated to cost the economy up to £10 billion annually. Most seriously of all, left unchecked, these rates of repeat crime mean thousands of people are unnecessarily becoming victims.

That is why the Government have embarked on wholesale reform, beginning with the publication of the Green Paper “Breaking the Cycle: effective punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders”, in December 2010. This set out our ambition to reduce reoffending, deliver better punishment and improve public protection. We have made good progress in delivering reforms in this area, but we need to go further. The next stage of reform is sentences in the community and the operation of the probation service which supervises them.

In these two publications I set out radical plans to make sentences in the community more credible and more effective in reducing crime and to reform probation so that it makes the fullest contribution by extending competition and opening up the management of lower risk offenders to the innovation and energy of the widest possible range of providers.

We propose wide-ranging reforms to the way sentences in the community operate. Our aim is to provide sentencers with a robust community sentencing framework that is effective at punishing and reforming offenders, and in which they and the public can have confidence. Our plans include intensive community punishment to be delivered through a tough package of requirements that would involve community payback, a significant restriction of liberty backed by electronic monitoring and effective financial penalties. We also propose that every community order includes a punitive element. We will build on these options by being creative with the technology available for monitoring offenders’ movements and by exploring the use of asset seizure as a stand alone punishment.

With regard to probation services, our consultation proposals are the result of the Government’s review of the future shape of probation services, aimed at ensuring that they punish and reform offenders, and protect the public more effectively. They also take forward our “Competition Strategy for Offender Services” published in July 2011, which set our intention to compete all offender services unless there are compelling reasons not to do so.

We need to reform probation services to cut crime—by making better use of the innovation, capacity and diversity of different providers. We intend to extend the principles of competition in probation services as envisaged by the Offender Management Act 2007.

The safety of the public is our number one priority. Under our proposals, public sector probation will retain control of the management of those criminals who pose the highest risk, including the most serious and violent offenders. The public sector will also retain responsibility for all advice to court, and for public interest decisions over all offenders including initially assessing levels of risk, resolving action where sentences are breached, and decisions on the recalls of offenders to prison.

Through carefully managed competition, including competing the management and supervision of lower risk offenders, we will bring greater effectiveness and quality to probation services by ensuring that they are delivered by those best placed to do so, whether they are in the public, voluntary, or private sectors.

Under our proposals, public sector probation trusts will have a stronger role as commissioners of competed services, responsible for buying competed services and holding those who deliver them to account for the outcomes they achieve. In particular, we will devolve more responsibility to probation trusts by giving them control of local budgets including, for example, for electronic monitoring of curfews, so they can deliver programmes targeted at local needs and reducing reoffending.

The aim of giving further discretion and responsibility to providers and front-line staff is that public safety can be protected and resources can be targeted effectively, including extending the principles of payment by results where possible. We will encourage the participation of the voluntary, private and public sectors, alongside new models for delivering public services like mutuals. We are also consulting on the potential over time for other public bodies, such as local authorities or Police and Crime Commissioners, to take responsibility for probation services.

This consultation and subsequent Government response will form the basis of stage 1 of the triennial review of probation trusts, as part of the coalition Government’s commitment to transparency and accountability. The triennial review will be aligned with guidance published by the Cabinet Office: “Guidance on Reviews of Non-Departmental Public Bodies”. The final report and findings will be laid in this House.

The Government’s goal is to reform sentences in the community and probation services so that they are able to both punish and reform offenders much more effectively. We will actively consult with stakeholders on these proposals.

Copies of “Punishment and Reform: Effective Community Sentences” and “Punishment and Reform: Effective Probation Services” will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The documents will also be available online, respectively, at:

https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/effective-community-services

and

https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/effective-probation-services