Cameron's "rehabilitation revolution" will struggle at a time of cuts

The PM's "tough and intelligent" approach is welcome. But it is hard to see it working when so many local services are being cut back.

David Cameron has today announced that he is to "put rocket boosters" under the coalition's payment by results approach to reducing reoffending. The biggest problem in penal policy is how we can reduce reoffending: the public have little time for politicians who are 'soft on crime' but they see little sense in prisons simply warehousing offenders if they come out just as or more likely to offend as when they went in. There was a danger that the departure of Ken Clarke in the reshuffle would have spelt the end of the government's focus on this critical area of systemic policy failure.

So there is much to welcome in the Prime Minister's "tough and intelligent approach". In particular, his pledge to address the fact that short stay offenders get little by way of rehabilitation and no probation support when they leave prison has created a 'revolving door' and a cycle of reoffending.

But there was little that was actually new in Cameron's speech. There are currently four prisons pilots at Doncaster, Leeds, High Down and Peterborough. The Peterborough pilot was set up by Labour. Other areas are running community-based payment by results pilots.  The coalition had already said that it wanted to see payment by results spread throughout the country by 2015.

There are two challenges that ministers must face up to if they are to make a real difference. First, rehabilitation costs in both the short to medium term. Rehabilitation requires investment in wrap around services, drug and alcohol programmes, and mental health services to provide people with the support to make a change in their lives. Yet the Ministry of Justice is facing massive cuts to its budget over the course of the current spending period. It is hard to see how a rehabilitation revolution can take off when so many local services are being cut back.

Second, we need to think about how to institutionalise a more effective and joined up approach to reducing reoffending in the long term. This is where there is a role for the new Police and Crime Commissioners. The "and crime" part of the title is important. It is plausible that at least part of the prison budget and some local prisons could be devolved to PCCs. They would then have an incentive to reduce reoffending because they would keep the savings from any fall in the local prison population. There are arguments about how much of a cash saving such 'justice reinvestment' mechanisms can yield, but the evidence from the United States where penal policy is locally administered is promising.

So the rehabilitation revolution appears to have survived the Clarke/Grayling transition. But it remains to be seen how powerful Cameron's rocket boosters actually are and whether this will produce the kind of step change we need in the offender management system.

Rick Muir is associate director at IPPR

David Cameron is escorted around the C wing of Wormwood Scrubs Prison earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn turns "the nasty party" back on Theresa May

The Labour leader exploited Conservative splits over disability benefits.

It didn't take long for Theresa May to herald the Conservatives' Copeland by-election victory at PMQs (and one couldn't blame her). But Jeremy Corbyn swiftly brought her down to earth. The Labour leader denounced the government for "sneaking out" its decision to overrule a court judgement calling for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to be extended to those with severe mental health problems.

Rather than merely expressing his own outrage, Corbyn drew on that of others. He smartly quoted Tory backbencher Heidi Allen, one of the tax credit rebels, who has called on May to "think agan" and "honour" the court's rulings. The Prime Minister protested that the government was merely returning PIPs to their "original intention" and was already spending more than ever on those with mental health conditions. But Corbyn had more ammunition, denouncing Conservative policy chair George Freeman for his suggestion that those "taking pills" for anxiety aren't "really disabled". After May branded Labour "the nasty party" in her conference speech, Corbyn suggested that the Tories were once again worthy of her epithet.

May emphasised that Freeman had apologised and, as so often, warned that the "extra support" promised by Labour would be impossible without the "strong economy" guaranteed by the Conservatives. "The one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain," she declared. Unlike on previous occasions, Corbyn had a ready riposte, reminding the Tories that they had increased the national debt by more than every previous Labour government.

But May saved her jibe of choice for the end, recalling shadow cabinet minister Cat Smith's assertion that the Copeland result was an "incredible achivement" for her party. "I think that word actually sums up the Right Honourable Gentleman's leadership. In-cred-ible," May concluded, with a rather surreal Thatcher-esque flourish.

Yet many economists and EU experts say the same of her Brexit plan. Having repeatedly hailed the UK's "strong economy" (which has so far proved resilient), May had better hope that single market withdrawal does not wreck it. But on Brexit, as on disability benefits, it is Conservative rebels, not Corbyn, who will determine her fate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.