'Rehabilitation revolution' for prisoners after short jail terms

Private contractors will provide probation services under payment-by-results contracts

Prisoners serving sentences under 12 months will be forced to undertake a period of rehabilitation upon release for the first time under proposed reforms revealed today.

As part of a “rehabilitation revolution”, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said short custodial sentences will include a period of rehab in a bid to curb reoffending.

Inmates serving under 12 months only currently undertake rehab on a voluntary basis and are otherwise released into the community with no supervision or support.

High reoffending rates triggered the overhaul with almost half of all prison-leavers re-convicted within 12 months and for those serving less than a year that figure rises to almost 58%.

The proposals call for greater use of mentors who will meet offenders at the prison gates, while private contractors will provide probation services under “payment by results” contracts.

Revealing the reforms, Mr Grayling said: “What we do at the moment is send people out of prison with £46 in their pocket, and no support at all. No wonder we have such high levels of reoffending. It is madness to carry on with the same old system and hope for a different result.”

The reforms will see the public sector probation service continue to deal with the most high risk offenders, including all serious sexual and violent offenders.

The final reforms will be set out in spring this year with the roll-out across England and Wales by spring 2015.

Mr Grayling added: “We know across the public, private and voluntary sectors there is a wealth of expertise and experience - we need to unlock that so we can finally begin to bring down our stubbornly high reoffending rates.

“Our proposals will see all of those sentenced to prison or probation properly punished while being helped to turn away from crime for good. They will also mean we only spend taxpayers' money on what works when it comes to cutting crime.”

The Government will be launching a nationwide 'Justice Data Lab' to help rehab organisations access reoffending data.

The Government will also provide £500,000 to voluntary and community sector groups to ensure they are ready to begin bidding for services.

Probation union Napo has warned the privatisation of the probation service would be a move “bound to compromise public protection”.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “When it comes to cutting reoffending, Ministry of Justice figures show that community sentences are outperforming short jail sentences by almost 10%. Why not build on the success of joint work by probation, police and voluntary organisations, rather than break up the probation service and put the public at risk?

“By reserving prison for serious and violent offenders instead of placing all bets on untried payment by results methods, the Justice Secretary could free up taxpayers' money to fund his rehabilitation revolution.”

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: “Payment by results in criminal justice is untested, and the Tory-led Government are taking a reckless gamble with public safety.

“Pilots were already under way to see if payment by results worked and to ensure any problems were ironed out before being rolled out. The new Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, is demonstrating breathtaking arrogance in choosing to ignore the pilots.”

Mr Khan said that every Probation Trust in the country was rated either good or exceptional by the Government in 2011, and warned that Mr Grayling's proposals risked replacing them with private firms such as G4S.

“Rushing into payment by results is a danger to the offenders who might not receive the rehabilitation support they require, and to the safety of communities up and down the country,” said Mr Khan. “And the Work Programme is showing that experienced and dedicated small and local providers won't be doing the delivery, but will be crowded out by the usual large private sector companies.”

Mr Grayling said the Government would now open discussions with providers on how the payment-by-results system would work.

"I want to have a grown up discussion with people across this world to say exactly how do we best build a pricing system - the incentives for the providers to make sure that they don't park the most difficult offender in the corner and ignore them," he told the Today programme.

"We can't afford that to happen."