Through the Gate but to where?
The report by HM Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey could not have made it any clearer. The much vaunted Through the Gate service (TTG) that Chris Grayling boasted would revolutionise the world of rehabilitation has been an abject failure.
Of 98 cases observed by inspectors only two prisoners were found accommodation via these services. Save for a few pockets of good practice, and from the feedback reaching us from some rightly exasperated Napo members working within Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) who have doubtless been doing their best to deliver the good intentions of the programme, probation providers are now facing the prospect of some serious directives from HMPPS to start delivering to an agreed standard.
Napo has moved swiftly in the wake of the HMI Probation report (https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/cjji/wpcontent/uploads/sites/2/2016/09/Through-the-Gate.pdf) to alert Parliamentarians to the fact that TTG resettlement services were introduced in 2015 to supposedly bridge the gap between prison and community, but that since then the services offered by CRCs across the whole probation landscape are making little tangible difference to the prospects of prisoners due for release.
As is now refreshingly the case since Dame Glenys Stacey took on responsibility for the inspectorate, the TTG report gets straight to the nub of the problem. It exposes the fact that the strategic priority of CRCs has been about ticking the boxes marked: contractual requirement, instead of sufficiently investing in what is needed to help clients step on to the road marked: recovery.
In a hugely damning indictment, the inspectorate found that prisoners upon release were no better served than eight months ago and worse still, that if Through the Gate services were removed tomorrow the impact would be negligible.
Staff are not to blame
Just after the publication of the report an Early Day Motion (EDM) was laid down by Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville, who is also the Chair of the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group. This followed three highly critical reports from HMI Probation in the context of growing concerns that CRCs are not achieving the desired results expected under the Transforming Rehabilitation programme (TR).
There is a whole separate debate to be had regarding whose fault that actually is; but the ongoing wrangles between CRC owners and the MoJ over future funding arrangements speak volumes, especially in the context of what Napo has had to say about mis-sold contracts based on unreliable and hugely outdated statistics.
Despite the findings of the TTG report, the EDM does not criticise probation providers individually but calls for a review as to how TR has impacted on the delivery of services. In particular it reflects how Through the Gate has attracted widespread criticism and it also recognises that the whole TR programme has been badly implemented and has left both CRCs and the National Probation Service in an impossible position, which directly impacts on staff and clients.
Prior to the calling of the General Election, Napo had made promising headway through the Justice Select Committee for the whole TR programme to be reviewed, and there were reasonable grounds to suggest that it was likely that this would have happened.
Napo has been highly critical of the operational shortcomings of the TR programme and for that I make no apologies. Nevertheless, I have had a number of opportunities such as a recent seminar organised by the Public Policy Exchange where I have made it clear that politicians and senior management need to listen more carefully to what the experts (that’s our members) are saying about the post-TR world and how improvements to what is currently going on could still be achieved with the right level of investment and changes to the governance structure which would see failing CRCs revert back to a form of public ownership.
Make no mistake, Napo never had a problem with the concept of Through the Gate, but like many facets of TR, it was the failure to even pilot the programme or to even analyse the potential cost benefits which have led to the taxpayer unwittingly bankrolling a spectacular failure.(James can this also be used as a pull quote somewhere on the page)
The evidence from the government’s own inspectors suggests that politicians need to have a serious rethink before wildly embarking on a prison-centric rehabilitation agenda that will leave massive gaps in community provision.
Through the Gate is as clear a sign as any that grandiose social experiments have a huge price for the public as well as those that they are meant to assist.