The claim

“[The rehabilitation] revolution will be built around the principle of payment by results…It’s the only way to get the best outcome for both the taxpayer and crucially the people we are trying to help.”

-Chris Grayling, justice secretary, 20 November 2012.

The background

Chris Grayling wants a “rehabilitation revolution”.

The justice secretary wants to make it compulsory that all short term prisoners get help to stop them from re-offending once they’re released from jail.

Mentoring, he said, is one way to get around the problem of re-offending – former ex-prisoners guiding newly released prisoners to get them back on the straight and narrow.

But at the heart of the revolution will be the principle of “payment by results”, he said, with organisations invited to take
care of the rehabilitation of offenders.

The analysis

At the Centre for Social Justice, there was a line in Mr Grayling’s speech which sounded suspiciously familiar: “All we do is just take those people [prisoners], release them onto the streets with £46 in their pockets and no other support.”

A quick check through the archives, and Mr Grayling said a similar thing in March: “In the past we just sent people out onto the same streets where they offended in the first place with virtually no money and very little support. We’re now working to change that.”

Then, he announced that everyone leaving prison and claiming jobseekers’ allowance (JSA) would be “immediately referred on day one to the government’s work programme”, the self-styled “biggest welfare-to-work project in history”.

That was compulsory, so by July, just under 10,000 prisoners had been referred on to the Work Programme, according to the department for work and pensions. Of them, 6,000 went on to take ‘attachments’, meaning they had continued to engage with the programme.

Which begs the question: what’s wrong with the Work Programme? Why bring in another scheme when there’s already one in place?

We don’t yet know how the Work Programme is doing for prisoners – those figures haven’t been released yet.

But on the Work Programme in general – one of the most high-profile examples of payment by results – Channel 4 News has already obtained leaked figures suggesting that the scheme’s second biggest provider, A4E, only managed to get four in one hundred back into work in a year.

There’s also another problem with payments by results for offenders, which we’ve already looked at. It’s a kind of cross-pollination. Issues in offending are interlinked: many in the justice system see offending rates and employment as going hand in hand, which would make it difficult to identify who’s responsible for the turnaround.

So if one organisation works on work, and another on rehabilitation, yet both, or indeed neither, could be responsible, then who gets the money?

We also wondered how it’s going to be paid for. The prison services are already in line for £450m in cuts.

When we asked the Ministry of Justice about that, they said: “The current budget for probation services is around £1bn and the cost of re-offending is around £10bn a year to the British economy. Existing funding needs to be spent more effectively.”

In other words, probation is heading for a significant hit.

But the plans announced today are intended for prisoners with sentences of 12 months or less, and probation applies to those with sentences of 12 months or more.

Which means that the same money will be spread more thinly. Between 1998 to 2008, each year on average, just under 30,000 people were given sentences longer than a year; over that period, 70,000 to 80,000 were given sentences less than a year.

If such rates were to continue, £1bn a year would need to be spread over 100,000 people, instead of 30,000.

The verdict

We don’t see how Mr Grayling can say that payment by results is “the only way to get the best outcome for both the taxpayer and crucially the people we are trying to help”.

We know he’s a big fan of it – he’s brought it from Work and Pensions to Justice – but even his previous attempts don’t yet tell us anything (see our previous FactChecks on payment by results, here, here and here).

It hasn’t been great value for money in the Work Programme, as evidenced by A4E.

Sources at the Ministry of Justice told us they’re happy with the Work Programme, and that it’s going to continue.

That should come as a relief to A4E, and their partners, Turning Pint and Sova. They met with Mr Grayling in July and urged him to set up closer links between the Ministry of Justice and the DWP which would “allow Work Programme providers to engage offenders more effectively”.

We’d be happy to see any figures suggesting the Work Programme has been a success.

They were meant to be out already, but have been delayed. We’ve been told they’re out next week.

By Fariha Karim