The publication of the Justice Committee’s report on the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation policy provides yet more evidence that the so-called rehabilitation revolution has resulted in charities being less involved than ever in the delivery of probation services. This is lamentable for anyone who works for a charity whose mission is to reach more people in more places. However, we are seeing an even more serious knock-on effect on people trapped in a criminal justice system which does not give them access to the specialist help they need.


The committee’s report echoes the findings of HM Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) who have highlighted the shortcomings of a probation system that has failed to engage – let alone involve – the voluntary sector in a three-tiered supply chain which does not connect with most charities. The Justice Committee recommends that Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) work to targets linked to voluntary sector involvement. This was tried by the probation service some 20 years ago with varying degrees of success. Whilst contractual improvements may well be necessary they will not be sufficient to reverse this intractable situation.


Whilst a well-managed supply chain could conceivably help individuals, it could never match the positive contribution that charities can make when backed by philanthropists and social investors. This goes far beyond managing offending and substance misuse issues. We know that if we can help individuals move from active addiction into active recovery, they are less likely to commit crime. However, despite having demonstrated that for every person Action on Addiction helps to move their life on in recovery another five people benefit indirectly, we are one of the many charities which does not take part in any of the CRC supply chains.


Those who work on the front line, deep in the heart of communities realise that building recovery from addiction or desistance from offending can never be solely reliant on the provision of services. As we see on a daily basis in places like The Brink, Action on Addiction’s recovery café in Liverpool, long-term sustained recovery always involves more than professional input – a rewarding job, a stable relationship, a settled home, a meaningful qualification, and above all a new connection with the community.


The delivery of services forms only one part of a hugely significant voluntary sector contribution which provides support and hope for those in recovery in their local communities, wherever they live. Dame Glenys Stacey wrote in the introduction to the HMIP report: “specialist providers often wish to do more for individuals than the [CRCs are] prepared to pay for”, and this goes to the heart of why an engagement strategy predicated on an ever-dwindling supply chain is unhelpful.


Now is the time for concerted collaboration and for the National Probation Service and CRCs to start looking upon charities such as Action on Addiction as ‘partners’ (a term currently reserved by the Ministry of Justice for statutory sector agencies) in addressing what is an extremely difficult situation which could quite easily end in tears.