CRCs and restorative justice – the story so far

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Jon Collins
24 October 2016

The Financial Times recently reported that the delivery of probation services is in trouble, with the contracts awarded to private companies to manage Community Rehabilitation Companies branded ‘lossmaking and unsustainable’. This is barely news – CRCs have been expressing concerns about caseloads and costs for some time. Nor is it the first sign of trouble, with reports by the prisons and probation inspectorates and the Public Accounts Committee, among others, highlighting problems with the delivery of the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms.

The reasons for this are multiple and complex, and include changes in the sorts of cases coming before the courts, the falling number of community orders given, the pace and scale of change in the rush to introduce the CRC model, and problems with the model itself. None will be easy to fix and it seems likely that, unless significant changes are made, the current issues will persist for the foreseeable future.

Understandably, perhaps, delivery of restorative justice is one of the things that has suffered as a consequence. While some areas are pushing ahead with making restorative justice a part of their rehabilitative work – some, indeed, are currently going through our Restorative Service Quality Mark assessment process – others are seeing restorative justice as an optional extra, only to be delivered if and when there is capacity on top of delivering core functions. Given the ongoing organisational upheaval and the lack of available funds highlighted in the Financial Times article, this isn’t going to be any time soon.

This is particularly disappointing considering the initial support for restorative justice in the design of Transforming Rehabilitation. First, the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014, a legislative building block of the reforms, created a new Rehabilitation Activity Requirement and specifically stated that it could include restorative justice. While this was also true of its forerunner, the Specified Activity Requirement, it hadn’t previously been explicitly stated and this legislative change removed any ambiguity from future debate.

Second, the contracting documentation for organisations bidding to run CRCs included a section on restorative justice. And while it did not made its delivery mandatory, there were clear messages from the Ministry of Justice that they wanted to see it as part of the CRC ‘offer’. As a result, many of the organisations bidding for the contracts formed partnerships with restorative justice providers to show that, if successful, they would be able to offer it as a rehabilitative intervention. The delivery envisaged has not materialised, however. There are at least two reasons for this. 

First, the strongest argument for restorative justice in this context is its efficacy in reducing reoffending. Transforming Rehabilitation was, after all, designed around ensuring that providers are incentivised to deliver effective interventions. But several CRCs have said informally that the Payment by Results model on which Transforming Rehabilitation is based isn’t working. CRCs receive a basic fee for service, and additional payments based on reductions in reoffending. However, they have little confidence that investing in interventions will reduce reoffending sufficiently to enable them to trigger the additional payments on a scale that makes the investment worthwhile. If this is the case – and it may well not be in every area – there is a limited incentive to fund a restorative justice intervention, even if you accept that it works.

Second, restorative justice is known to help victims to recover from crime. But CRCs have no formal responsibility for victims and supporting them is not part of their remit. Moreover, some CRCs have seen the funding awarded to PCCs for restorative justice and concluded that if PCCs have received funding to deliver restorative justice then they don’t need to. As a result, instead of delivering it themselves, they have looked for ways to refer cases to the local PCC service. In some areas this works well, with PCCs happy with the arrangement as a way of increasing caseloads, given that the victim will ultimately benefit. But others have privately complained that CRCs are ‘dumping’ cases on them, rather than doing their bit.

This is because PCCs were funded to provide ‘victim initiated’ (sometimes referred to as ‘victim led’) restorative justice. If CRCs judge that restorative justice could contribute to an offender’s rehabilitation, then the Ministry of Justice’s original intention was that the CRC would pay for that, not pass it off to the PCC. Yet in many areas it seems that this is not happening.

This is further complicated by the fact that whether a case is victim initiated or offender initiated, the participation of both the offender and the victim is required to make restorative justice happen. CRCs manage offenders, while PCCs are responsible for managing victims’ services. So both must work together. Even in a case facilitated by a PCC-funded service, for example, there is work for the CRC to do in preparing the offender and ensuring that their other rehabilitative work aligns with the restorative justice process.

As a result, PCCs and CRCs should be looking to find ways to co-ordinate their work and to work in partnership to prevent duplication of effort and wasted resources. But there are areas where instead everybody sees it as somebody else’s job and nothing happens as a result. Where there is a lack of clarity, gaps will inevitably emerge.

It’s not all bad news. As I said above, some CRCs are pushing ahead with building the infrastructure for restorative justice delivery within the CRC. Others are forming local multiagency partnerships that all local stakeholders – including PCCs, CRCs, prisons, local authorities and the voluntary sector – can contribute to. Indeed this model, discussed in a recent RJC report, may be the way forward in many areas, with the capacity to deliver efficiently and remove duplications of effort.

Overall, though, there is a lot more to do to ensure that CRCs are consistently contributing to the delivery of restorative justice across England and Wales. So what can be done? The Ministry of Justice can, as part of the contract management process, put pressure on CRCs to deliver restorative justice. PCCs can use their negotiating heft to bring CRCs to the table and think about how they can make a contribution. And we’ll be doing some work over the coming months to look at how CRCs are currently delivering restorative justice and what lessons can be learned.

With the new probation model currently facing criticism from every side, it can be difficult to get restorative justice on the agenda. But CRCs have a vital part to play and if they don’t deliver it will inevitably have an impact on the extent to which both victims and offenders are able to access restorative justice. In the current climate this is a real risk and one that urgently needs to be addressed.