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We will end the merry-go-round of reoffending

By tapping into the expertise, resources and innovation of the private and voluntary sector, the government is bringing a fresh approach to rehabilitation.

David Cameron is escorted around C wing by prison officers during his visit to Wormwood Scrubs Prison. Photograph: Getty Images.

Editor's note: This piece is a response to Alan White's article, "Three reasons Chris Grayling's outsourcing plan for the probation service is a terrible idea"

Last year around 600,000 offences were committed by those who had broken the law before. And almost half of people who leave prison are back to their old ways within a year.

These are dreadful figures and represent untold misery and pain for victims and billions of pounds in wasted taxpayers’ money. Anyone who is happy to live with this is on another planet.

Try telling the homeowner who has had their home broken into by the repeat burglar, or the old lady who has been mugged in the street by the recidivist crack addict that we’re happy with the status quo, that we’re doing enough.

Simply put, we are not, and I am determined to deliver swift and significant reforms so we can finally stop the merry-go-round of reoffending and give the public a criminal justice system they deserve.

By tapping into the expertise, resources and innovation of the private and voluntary sector, we will bring a much needed fresh approach to rehabilitation. Only paying providers in full if they are successful at reducing reoffending is the right way forwards, ensuring taxpayers’ money works harder with organisations that are fixed on turning round the lives of troubled offenders.

We need providers to work with all offenders. Our payment by results contracts will be split in two: one success payment for reducing reoffending and another for reducing the number of further crimes committed by the people they are working with. This will stop providers picking off the low hanging fruit – on the contrary, greater rewards will be available for tackling the most persistent and chaotic criminals who cause so much damage to our communities.

We will not see big private companies monopolising rehabilitation contracts – smaller grassroots charities and voluntary organisations have an essential role to play in our reforms. We will give them the right support to take their seat at the table. This is why we recently announced a significant package of measures to help the voluntary sector compete for contracts on a fair and level playing field.

Introducing competition and payment by results, and giving the voluntary sector a greater role, means we can do more with less. By freeing up our budgets we can afford to introduce a new minimum 12 months rehabilitation period in the community for every offender leaving prison. This will give frontline staff and offenders a proper chance at finally breaking the cycle of crime.

Our reforms are not about removing the public sector from the mix - quite the opposite. A new refocused National Probation Service will be at the heart of the system, protecting the public from the most dangerous offenders and taking on lower risk criminals whose risk rises. Let’s not forget, the professionals who are making these judgement calls today are the very same ones who will be making them in two years time. The difference is they will be working in a far more flexible environment, one in which they can innovate to find what works best.

The argument for change could not be clearer and we are now working closely with all providers on the fine design of a new approach that will bring together the best of the private, voluntary and public sectors, so we can better protect the public.

People have criticised payment by results, and pointed to the Work Programme. It is still early days but already more than 207, 000 people had been helped into a job through the Programme by the end of September 2012 and performance is improving still further.

We have seen some first-rate, innovative support from providers to get people into work, albeit in a challenging economic climate. That’s not to say we haven’t learnt valuable lessons from it. For example our rehabilitation contracts will not be 100 per cent payment by results. Providers will be paid a set fee for carrying out orders of the court, but to achieve the full value of the contract they will have to demonstrate real reductions in reoffending.

I’m under no illusions about the scale of this challenge and what we are trying to achieve, but I’m determined to drive these plans forward for roll-out by 2015 - it is simply not an option to rest on our laurels. No longer can we shrug our shoulders as if this merry-go-round of crime is an inevitable fact of life that we should all just put up with. We can and will stop it.

Chris Grayling is the Justice Secretary