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Criminal justice contracts – opportunities for the Third Sector

 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) are private sector suppliers of probation and prison-based services for offenders in England and Wales. They were established in 2015 as part of the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation Programme (TR), brought in by Chris Grayling, former Justice Secretary. There seems to be a strong correlation between the introduction of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme and the rise in violent crime, especially within serious youth violence and domestic abuse that have impacted on our families and communities. It was recently announced that the contracts with CRCs would be scrapped two years early due to failures in the system and model and a renationalized service take in its place.

CRCs were, unfortunately, so strained from the beginning that they were unable to look outwards and create meaningful relationships with local and larger VSOs during their five years of controlling low-to-medium risk offenders. The lack of ability to take a hold of offender management has led to an increased risk to the public and when you factor in austerity, reduction in police numbers and rise in school exclusion rates you can see why this was an almost impossible task to achieve without engaging the third sector. 

David Gauke, the new Justice Secretary, has said that “the model we are announcing...will harness the skills of private and voluntary providers and draw on the expertise of the National Probation Service to boost rehabilitation, improve standards and ultimately increase public safety.” The Government’s response to the Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence consultation included “a clearer role for the voluntary sector and smaller providers” within their future approach, services including structured interventions and mentoring around substance misuse, as well as employability and resettlement projects.

The government wants to ensure that there is not a repeat of the promises made during TR Programme. They plan to take strategic action to collaborate with the voluntary sector in order to “develop an approach to support direct participation of smaller voluntary providers...through the procurement of a dynamic framework... [that] operates as an open panel of suppliers”.

We need to ensure that they are held account to this framework.

Many smaller, BAME organisations within the sector will be looking at opportunities to engage with criminal justice contracts to deliver in partnership with the New National Service. However, they may not be thinking about partnerships with other VSOs to strengthen the likelihood of winning contracts to do the work that will make a difference.

Supported collaboration programmes have been created as a response to the lack of funding and opportunities by various funders as they too recognised this was an issue. Simply giving training and sharing ideas is not always enough. Smaller organisations, projects and programme (especially BAME) benefit from collaborating with other organisations that share a vision for change in their communities – for example, if one project delivers courses employability readiness skills for those with offending backgrounds and another works with companies to actively recruit ex-offenders why not put in a bid together for a larger amount and share resources, especially as the same service user is likely to be work with both projects to achieve longer term success.

If you are within the BAME sector and are interested in working within the Criminal Justice provider group then I would urge you to look out for opportunities like the Connectivity Programme that brings organisations, projects and skilled individuals together in partnership.  This increases their ability to deliver work with a diverse range of skills that both complement but differ. This will allow co-production of integrated activities enabling end users to experience the benefit of culturally competent programmes and socially relevant activities. This approach not only increases positive community impact but also strengthens the skills and longevity of the sector through creating engaged and supported leaders that sustain effective, high quality programmes.

The Ministry of Justice has stated in the plans of renationalisation that the VSO sector should and will be represented in the new model. Think about what you could do, and who else you may need, to achieve the vision. This will undoubtedly increase your chances of working within the justice sector and making a difference to the over- and under-represented communities.

Find out more about the Connectivity Programme.

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