A slow adoption of new ICT systems has hindered the transformation of probation services in England and Wales, according central government’s chief auditor.
The National Audit Office (NAO) has identified the shortcomings in a new report, Transforming rehabilitation: Progress review, which says the reforms have failed to meet the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) targets to reduce reoffending.
It conveys a highly critical assessment of the reforms, which were launched in 2013 and have involved the creation of the National Probation Services and appointment of community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) to manage low and medium risk offenders.
Among the CRCs’ commitments was to invest in new technology and ICT systems, and the MoJ committed to creating an ICT gateway to provide a link between these and HM Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS) systems.
This was delivered more than a year late in September 2016, which affected the CRCs’ ability to introduce new systems. By January of this year only two were using the gateway, seven were still working towards introducing their own systems and 12 had decided to retain those run by HMPPS. Some have also brought legal claims against the MoJ relating to the delays.
In turn, this has narrowed the scope for CRCs to develop innovative rehabilitation services.
Along with a series of other shortcomings – including a shortage of probation officers, an over-hasty implementation of the reforms, and problems with the interfaces between different organisations – this has led to a disappointing performance in the sector.
While there was a 2.5% reduction in the proportion of reoffenders since 2011, there was also a 22% overall increase in the number of reoffences per reoffender. Also, in nine of 13 inspections of CRCs, HM Inspectorate of Probation made a negative assessment of the performance.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, commented: “The ministry set itself up to fail in how it approached probation reforms. Its rushed roll out created significant risks that it was unable to manage.
“These have had far reaching consequences. Not only have these failings been extremely costly for taxpayers, but we have seen the number of people on short sentences recalled to prison skyrocket.
“It is welcome that the ministry’s proposals address some of the issues that have caused problems, but risks remain. It needs to pause and think carefully about its next steps so that it can get things right this time and improve the quality of probation services.”
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