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Covid-19 and the criminal justice system

Crest carried out research to understand how Covid-19 is impacting the criminal justice system. We wanted to understand what long term reforms this crisis may drive forward or, conversely, hinder. 



Long before the Covid-19 outbreak, our justice system was already struggling, as our Swift and Certain criminal justice interim report showed. It was underperforming against virtually every measure: police charge rates were going down – decreasing by 47 per cent between 2014 and 2018 from 17 per cent to 9 per cent – against a backdrop of rising crime, court timeliness was getting lengthier with offence to completion timelines having increased by 23 per cent between 2010 and 2018, and reoffending rates were remaining stubbornly high with over a quarter of all offenders reoffending (January 2020). 

Now a justice system which was already struggling, is having to adapt to continue to operate at an even more limited capacity. 

This public emergency is shining a light on the failings of the current criminal justice system, as well as its innovations, and has forced some rapid changes. Does it offer the opportunity to develop new solutions and reform processes? 

This project will explore both the changes and attempt to understand its lasting consequences. 


What did we look at?

Our work consisted of three phases within which we will concentrate on particular questions:

1. Quantifying the short-term and long-term impact of Covid-19 on the justice system using modelling techniques and data analysis: 

  • How resilient has the justice system been?

  • How will the crisis change supply and demand in the system?

2. Assess the response and performance of the justice system to the current crisis:

  • What tools have the system adopted to cope with the crisis?

  • Have the tools used to cope with the crisis been effective?

  • Have the tools used to cope with the crisis ensured justice?

3. Discuss the implications of the crisis to inform what a post-Covid-19 justice system looks like

Project publications


During the first phase of our research examining the drivers of serious violence, our objective was to increase understanding of a complex phenomenon, equipping policy-makers, Police and Crime Commissioners and chief constables with a suite of practical policy recommendations for combating serious violence. 


Crest’s research on police demand (also funded by the Dawes Trust) revealed that a rise in violence and sexual offences has been the biggest contributor to the pressures policing is currently under. However, there was no consensus on what is causing this rise. Instead, the public debate is focused on individual solutions such as stop and search or increased police officer numbers with little evidence of what the root causes of this problem are.

In order to develop effective interventions and strategies policymakers were equipped with accurate information about what is happening and why, and avoid focusing on often ideological solutions. 


What did we look at?
We segmented the problem into distinct subject areas to explore them in greater depth. Our first report set out the overall context for serious violence, detailing the trends and drivers which required more in depth analysis. 

The four drivers are:

1. Shifts in drug markets: e.g. increased production/purity of cocaine

2. Increased vulnerability: e.g. increased numbers of ‘at risk’ children drawn into violence, including through Pupil Referral Units (PRUs)

3. Decline in effective enforcement: e.g. weakened police intelligence and reduction in prosecution/charge rate

4. Greater opportunity: e.g. rising social media use


How did we work?
Our team of researchers, analysts and policy experts carried out a mix of field and desk-based research, to bring together the evidence on the context and drivers of serious violence. In order to dig into the issues further, we worked in partnership with a number of police forces and PCCs to develop a stronger understanding of local drivers in local areas and opportunities for change. 

Our quantitative and qualitative research involved analysing published and locally-held data, such as police, health and local authority data, in order to understand the nature and pattern of serious violence in the UK and engaging with a wide range of stakeholders to conduct focus groups and test hypotheses and conclusions with experts. 

We engaged with representatives from agencies related to criminal justice, social justice, health, education and wider public services, as well as academia, the third sector, members of affected communities and harder to reach groups to ensure individuals from all walks of life and interests are consulted in this research.

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