Just Results: Payment by results in community sentences – Russell Webster

 In Press

Make Justice Work, the campaign to highlight the cost of short-term prison sentences and to improve public confidence in community sentences, just published an interesting report on payment by results and re-offending.

The Process

MJW brought together 30 experts to explore the “challenges of applying the principles of payment by results to community sentences.”

The report is the product of their deliberations. It outlines nine key principles and identifies three key concerns.

The Principles

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 crime.

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 sentencing.

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

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.


The report also identifies three key concerns.

Firstly, the authors (rightly in my opinion) state that PbR is not yet very well understood and we need to treat the pilots in their true sense as experiments from which we distill some real learning before making PbR a mainstream approach to commissioning public services. Currently, it appears that the Ministry of Justice is using pilots in the political sense of the word – they will be replicated before even being properly evaluated.

Secondly, the report voices concerns that the PbR model, which often requires organisations to have substantial financial reserves, distorts the marketplace in favour of large, private sector firms.

Finally, the report challenges the current political insistence that re-offending is measured on a binary basis – i.e. if an individual re-offends, the scheme is considered to have failed in respect of that individual and therefore no payment will be made.

I absolutely agree with the report authors’ recommendations that we should take a frequency approach to measuring re-offending. This means that the success of the scheme (and the amount of payment made to providers) are calculated on reductions in the amount of re-offending – not simply whether someone has committed a further offence.

We know that most entrenched offenders give up offending over a period of time, reducing the seriousness and frequency of their offences, rather than just stopping completely.

It is these prolific offenders that PbR schemes should concentrate on because it is in all our interests if they can be helped to leave productive and law-abiding lives. But providers won’t be able to afford to continue to work with them if they know they aren’t getting paid as soon as someone re-offends.

The great advantage about changing from a binary to a frequency approach of measuring success is that it in no way detracts from the focus on outcomes.

Providers should still be encouraged to develop creative and innovative approaches to tackling re-offending in the knowledge that they will only get paid if they succeed. A frequency approach only works for providers if they reduce the volume of crimes, and, more importantly, the number of victims.

This is a much better approach than the current vogue in other PbR schemes (such as the drug recovery pilots) to start using interim measures. As I argued last week, as soon as you set new milestones, providers will start to focus on them, rather than the outcomes, and we will no longer really have a payment by results approach.
I recommend you read the report in full, you might also like to look at the wide range of materials available in my free resource pack, recently updated for the 50th time.

Read the full article on Russell Webster’s website.

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