Ministry of Justice not Ministry of Magic – The Information Daily

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The British Government and its Ministry of Justice are coming under increasing criticism over plans to introduce Payment by Results (PbR) to community sentences.

The Ministry of Justice proposes rolling out PbR across the justice system by 2015 but, as Roma Hooper, Director of Making Justice Work (MJW) points out the two pilot schemes designed to test how PbR will work for community sentencing, don’t start until 2013.

“We have serious concerns about the use of PbR in community sentences and the haste with which the government is moving.” Says Hooper in a new report  Just results: Community Sentencing in the Balance published by MJW today.

If it seems that the Justice Department is in a rush to introduce the system it is because PbR is seen by the coalition Government as a get-more-for-less magic trick. The plan is to outsource the delivery of social services and associated activities to the private sector and third sector organisations like charities who only get paid if they hit the targets agreed at the outset.

This is not a new model. Welfare to Work runs in this way though not with any notable success. PbR is being touted as the solution to a whole variety of previously intractable problems. Having failed to deal with reoffending and getting people to give up drug abuse the state thinks that selling off the problems and motivating the private sector with the threat of no payment will provide a solution.

This is the JK Rowling approach to service delivery. If you come to a problem in the plot where you can’t think of a solution yourself then invent a magic spell and wave your little stick around.

The Ministry of Justice, if not the Government itself, is keen to send fewer people to prison. Community sentencing (CS) funded through a PbR system might be a good idea if it could be made to work. Two CS pilots to test if PbR can be relied upon to deliver fewer people in custody and save the state money at the same time are to start in 2013.

This plan, concentrating as it does upon outcomes and relying on private sector innovation to achieve them, should be encouraged. Expecting a Potterish flash of instant solution is however just plain childish.

The Make Justice Work (MJW) report draws upon the deliberations of thirty experts in the offender management arena. The group, convened by MJW, met in May this year to examine the MoJ proposals. Their report says the government is going far too fast, that the proposed target system is a blunt instrument that simply wont work and that most of the potential “suppliers” are too small and parochial to survive the uncertainty of the proposed payment system.

MJW wants to go a whole lot slower and resource the proper evaluation of the pilot schemes before moving to roll out. The Just Results report also suggests establishing an independent inspectorate and sets out nine principles (see below) that might be used to inform the inspectorate’s remit.

1. Focus on Outcomes – The ultimate goal is to make life safer for
everyone.  The focus of PbR is currently on reducing reoffending, but other outcomes, particularly reducing crime, are also important

2. Integrated Services – Service provision must embrace agencies outside
the traditional criminal justice system to address the underlying causes of

3. Personalised Services – Providers need the flexibility to tailor
packages of support that reflect the individual needs of offenders, victims
and communities.

4. Equity of Outcome – Addressing the needs of offenders of all kinds must be a goal.

5. Procedural Justice – All aspects of the management of offenders and
victims under PbR must be fair and transparent.

6. Effective Communication – Good communication is required, focused on
building the confidence of sentencers and the public in community

7. Quality Assurance – Independent outcome data and effective quality
assurance are required, but inspection and regulation must be as light as

8. Innovation – Structures of provision and service delivery must be
agile and flexible, allowing for innovation and learning, and tolerating
some failure.

9. Value for Money – Value for money must be measured by success in achieving outcomes and not simply in reducing costs.
MJW is right and few would bother to try to prove it wrong. And yet it is unlikely to get its way. Adoption of the MJW approach would inevitably mean higher costs and so the purpose of the exercise would be defeated before it started.

The government is in a rush. It has two and half years to show some quantifiable improvements across a whole range of metrics. Asking the electorate for a second term based on a record of “well at least things didn’t get any worse since we took over” may well not win the day. And second time around the government will only have its own recent record to find wanting.

Read the full story on the Information Daily

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