Leeds & West Yorkshire

Leeds Prison set to introduce payment by results model

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Media captionFinancial rewards and penalties are given based upon the number of prisoners who re-offend

Stopping prisoners re-offending matters in any context.

The Howard League for Penal Reform put the cost to the economy at £10bn a year, and that is not including the social and emotional costs to victims of crime, the families of prisoners and the prisoners themselves.

But in the context of the HMP Leeds it matters even more.

That is because in six months' time the old Victorian facility becomes the first ever publicly-run prison to move to the payment by results model.

That is a system whereby financial rewards and penalties are given based upon the number of prisoners who re-offend.

Leeds is not the first prison to move to this model; it has been up and running in nearby private jail Doncaster since last summer.

The difference is that in Doncaster the company which runs it, Serco, is essentially putting its profits at risk when it takes part in the scheme.

And for companies with a bottom line, the profit motive is a strong one.

At Leeds there are no profits for penalty payments to come out of, so how will it work?

'Prisoners cherry picked'

Leeds will create a new, external organisation, with specific responsibility for stopping re-offending, funded through prison budgets.

They will then bring in an outside company, charity or social enterprise, who will also invest into the new organisation.

That combined budget will be used to work with prisoners both during their time inside and post-release to reduce their chances of re-offending.

If they fail to meet re-offending targets they face a financial penalty. Over-perform and they get a healthy return on their investments.

Image caption If the prison fails to meet re-offending targets it faces a financial penalty

The concerns around payment by results are generally not around principles but practicalities.

Andrew Neilson, from the Howard League, said: "The biggest concern is that they will 'cherry pick' individuals who are most likely to meet their targets, leaving the most hard-to-reach behind.

"The danger is that those left behind are precisely those most likely to re-offend and re-offend most seriously.

"What is to prevent 'ghosting' - where a difficult prisoner is moved to a different jail to avoid being part of the payment by results cohort?

"Finally, how do you avoid double, even triple payment?

"Payment by results is sweeping across government but this creates a complex picture.

"Does a person desist from offending because their addiction problems have been alleviated by a payment by results programme in the NHS? Or is it through their new employment, facilitated by the payment by results in welfare to work?"

Other prisons tested

The model is in its very early stages and because results take two years to come through, responding to concerns will take time.

For good or ill, however, the model seems to be the future.

The government has said that by 2015 it is the model they want to see across the prison estate. And that is the reason the Leeds pilot takes on extra significance.

Last October HMP Birmingham became the first ever UK prison to be privatised; others are currently being "market tested" to see if they could go the same way.

Leeds however, is seeking to prove that publicly-run facilities can embrace the government's vision of the future.

To some people, it is not just the futures of Leeds' inmates that ride on this pilot, it is the very future of publicly-run prisons.

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