England and Wales Offer a Story of Survival in the Age of Budget Cuts for Innovative Probation Programs
Date:  11-26-2012

Key factors for success when funds run dry are presented in new report
The prison population in England and Wales exploded in 2007, causing the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) to take action to reduce the number of inmates in the criminal justice system of those two countries. As an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice, NOMS goals are twofold: to keep correctional costs down, and to rehabilitate prisoners. click here to go to website

With those goals in mind, NOMS began working with the 35 Probation Trusts who are responsible for managing individuals on probation in England and Wales. A plan was put in place to provide community service projects, rather than incarceration, for low-level offenders. The community service participants had certain requirements placed on them, depending on their needs. Participants with alcohol or substance abuse problems, for instance, were required to get treatment.

Seven Probation Trusts participated in the Intensive Alternative to Custody (IAC) pilot program. The success of the seven Trusts were based on five IAC “survivor factors,” which are presented in Going it Alone: The Story of the Intensive Alternative to Custody Pilots:

  • Innovation that is successfully embedded in local partnerships can survive central government cuts in funding:

    As national support was withdrawn from IAC, local and regional partners stepped into the breach, encouraged not only by the performance to date but also by Coalition reforms which supported innovative partnerships. A number of projects were able to have mature conversations with a range of partners, sentencers in particular, about the required reductions in service levels when the central funding stopped. IAC’s real strength was its original commitment to localism.

  • Public sector agencies need to develop their capabilities to survive in the new world of competition:

    Probation’s status as a ‘Cinderella service,’ as it was described in 2009 by the then Attorney General Baroness Scotland, has long required it to punch above its weight. The decision to embed IAC within the matrix of local service provision proved crucial to helping local probation trusts to leverage impact. IAC indicates that probation trusts were able to develop vital capabilities for the coming, competitive world. Through IAC, probation trusts developed mature, business-focused understandings of their own IAC offer and of their local operational environment. Their ability to adapt is a skill vital for a time when all local providers of offender services are being called on to be increasingly inventive.

  • Innovative projects need to continually self reflect in order to adapt and survive:

    The experience of the seven IAC projects from 2008 to the current day has shown that to innovate, criminal justice agencies need processes to support self-reflection. The seven projects did this in a number of ways, including project boards, feedback from staff meetings, user groups, and through skilled middle managers who regularly engaged with local partners.

  • Demonstrating impact in the first few years of development needs to be carefully managed:

    The IAC story highlights the continuing tension about how best to demonstrate the impact of innovative pilots. The national strategy of evaluation clearly was not fit for purpose. Pilots were left without any real clue as to their effectiveness by the time the funding ended. The understandable onus within the Ministry of Justice on only the best quality research designs and the protracted delay in producing the commissioned evaluations left the IAC projects vulnerable to the charge that they could not demonstrate whether IAC worked. Many areas found ways around this but it was a difficult, ad-hoc process.

    England gave birth to the idea of social impact bonds which, along with a strong commitment from services providers, enables programs such as the Intensive Alternative to Custody to flourish and to keep corrections costs down while providing aid to those who might otherwise end up behind bars.

    Source: Center for Court Innovation
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