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All on the same side: Rethinking how we measure performance in the criminal justice system

Insights Report


Jon Clements, Development Director | Sophie du Mont, Strategy and Insight Manager

Thursday 10 August 2017

What would a ‘good’ criminal justice system look like? Most of us know instinctively what a good school looks like (happy kids, good educational attainment) or a successful hospital when we see one (improvements in patient health).

But when it comes to the criminal justice system – the collection of agencies encompassing the police, prosecution service, courts, probation, prisons, and victims and witness services – things become more murky.

At Crest we want to provide clarity on criminal justice and support our clients to think, speak and act differently in our sector. In this project we set out to find better ways to measure criminal justice performance. Our aim was to try to identify a criminal justice system where the performance of each individual agency within it is being properly measured and understood, thereby enabling police and crime commissioners and the public to see where improvement is needed and hold agencies to account.

Despite promises from government that monitoring systems for criminal justice will be made more transparent, they remain more opaque than ever. Some ‘performance dashboards’ have been published in some areas but they are not criminal justice system-wide and most are used as internal management tools rather than published for wider public scrutiny.

We wanted to know what should be being measured in the system that would assess the effectiveness and overall health of our criminal justice system, who is best placed to collate that information and how it should be published. We also wanted to know how criminal justice agencies might best be held to account and the steps that would be needed to create a tool that could be used by every force area in the country.

Key findings

  • The current system for measuring the effectiveness in criminal justice is not fit for purpose and is characterised by siloed (and often conflicting) objectives, input-oriented measures and a lack of transparency to the public

  • There is a strong appetite for reform from both police and crime commissioners and the general public. Police and crime commissioners feel the system lacks an overall purpose with clear and locally agreed outcomes

  • New technology presents huge opportunities to improve the efficiency of the system, but major structural barriers to reform remain, including the inability of police and crime commissioners to access key performance data about the police, courts and other agencies

  • A new framework for measuring effectiveness would include a limited set of shared outcomes set nationally, with local areas given much greater discretion for how those outcomes are achieved

  • The public is much less punitive than is often imagined – a large majority thinks the best way to cut crime is through better prevention, rather than prison and/ or more arrests


Our analysis points to four overarching problems with the way performance is currently measured and managed: we have developed a set of recommendations to address each one:

Public polling

In order to understand more about the public’s understanding & appetite for criminal justice performance information, as well as their wider views on crime and the criminal justice system, we commissioned a representative poll of 2,000 members of the public.


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