New prisoner rehabilitation plan unworkable, says Labour peer Baroness Corston


Justice Secretary Chris Grayling's plans to use payment-by-results to boost prisoner rehabilitation won't work because the success of such programmes is so difficult to monitor, according to the peer once tasked with overhauling Britain's prison system.

Baroness Corston, pictured, has accused the coalition of making "hugely retrograde steps" in its criminal justice policies, including its proposals for the privatisation of prisoner reform.

Earlier this week Mr Grayling called for "a revolution in rehabilitation… built around the principle of payment by results". Under the plans, each prisoner would have a mentor to help them with finding housing and training opportunities at the point of release, these groups would then be paid for their efforts if the person did not reoffend.

But five years after the publication of Lady Corston's extensive investigation into the Criminal Justice System, the Labour peer told i: "[The Government] talks of payment by results but that doesn't mean anything. I feel in a way they've gone backwards."

Her report for the Home Office in 2007 proposed that rehabilitation was co-ordinated by a single, accountable body at the top of the prison system.

A more-the-merrier policy, with a mix of companies invited to get involved in mentoring and payment by result, is in direct conflict with her recommendations, she said. The peer questioned how the performance of the schemes would be monitored, especially if ex-prisoners re-offended months or years after "success" payments had been made.

"When I heard the Prime Minister's plans I thought to myself this is someone who has clearly never been Justice Minister or looked into it at all," Lady Corston said.

The outspoken former chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party is concerned that the proposals, along with calls for harsher sentencing, are a signal that policy is slipping "back to square one."

After talking to prisoners, staff, and a number of expert groups, Lady Corston's findings were published in 2007 and culminated in the formation of The Corston Independent Funders' Coalition – a lobby group of 21 charitable trusts, foundations and individuals working to sustain a shift from imprisonment to community sentencing for vulnerable women offenders.

Lady Corston has also voiced her anger about recent cuts to women's centres that had been set up to help those at risk of offending from a life of crime.