Thursday, 15 August 2013

The rehabilitation revolution?

When the Conservatives were in opposition ACEVO had many discussions about their evolving policy platforms. I remember a particularly fruitful meeting with Oliver Letwin MP, now the policy brains in the Cabinet Office. Oliver is a real Gent - with a passion for change and no less so than in the "revolving doors" of our prisons. Reform of rehabilitation services was a key plank of their manifesto and they are moving to implement it with radical proposals we are currently discussing with the MoJ. 

This is important for us and for the Government. The fact that the majority of released prisoners are back inside in a year is a huge drain on public resources and on the social fabric. 

The role of charities in prisons and in working with ex offenders is centuries old. The Quakers have an honourable tradition of working in prisons and from the early 19th century the Government gave grants to charities to aid discharged prisoners.  The "redemption of prisoners" was one of the charitable uses laid down in the 1601 Statute of Elizabeth. The 1854 youthful Offenders Act funded schools for young offenders which were run by charities. 

So there is a long tradition of the State and the third sector working together on rehabilitation. 

But Government must get this right. It is only by commissioning charities that you reach the most difficult of cases. We know that many of those in prison have mental health or addiction problems. They come out with few prospects of a job, often with relationship problems back home; that is if they have one. Charities have a proven track record; often hugely impressive, of getting people back on track. They don't cream off easy-to-help cases, and have long experience in their work. Great ACEVO members work in charities like Turning Point or Nacro, St Giles or CRI to name but a few. 

We cannot afford to see a new system that just ensures the big contracts go to the private sector, and charities are either frozen out or given a subsidiary role. 

So the discussions taking place at the moment need to ensure the commissioning framework will encourage charities to come forward. I want to see charities taking the lead role, not organisations like G4S. We need the PBR system to aid more new entrants, not freeze them out. We need access to social finance and cash flow support. And contract size must enable the sector to step up, not be forced out. 

I'm confident MoJ are listening. But more work must be done to ensure the tender framework is right. And we will judge outcomes by how many charities are commissioned. 

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