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Project: COVID-19 and the criminal justice system

Project team: Callyane Desroches, Senior Analyst | Joe Caluori, Head of Policy Tuesday 21 April 2020

ANALYSIS: A perfect storm: why the criminal justice system is facing an existential crisis

Crest is undertaking new research to understand how COVID-19 is impacting the criminal justice system. We want to understand what long term reforms this crisis may drive forward or, conversely, hinder.

We hope this project, funded by the Hadley Trust, will benefit agencies across the criminal justice system as they seek to manage and ultimately move beyond the COVID-19 crisis.



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 their lasting consequences.

What are we looking at?


Our work will consist 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:

  1. How resilient has the justice system been?

  2. 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:

  1. What tools have the system adopted to cope with the crisis?

  2. Have the tools used to cope with the crisis been effective?

  3. 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

How are we working?


Our team of researchers, analysts and policy experts will carry out mixed-methods research. There will be three main components:

Quantitative analysis and modelling: we will interpret publicly available data, using modelling techniques to quantify the impact of COVID-19 on the functioning of the courts, prisons and probation systems. We may also partner with local areas to dive into specific impacts. Qualitative research: we will draw on published guidelines from the government and reports from third parties or criminal justice agencies themselves to understand the impact of COVID-19 on their operations. Engagement: we will engage with representatives from agencies related to criminal justice, social justice, health, education and wider public services, as well as academia and the third sector. We plan to engage the public by holding a virtual ‘Citizens Jury’ to understand what they think about the response of the justice system during COVID-19 and what lessons they feel could be learnt for the future of the justice system. We will also conduct a roundtable discussion to engage with stakeholders from across the system to understand their perspectives. The outputs of this project will be a final written report including the results of our modelling, engagement and analysis with recommendations for the future of the justice system.

How can you get involved?


We would love to hear from:

  • Police leaders

  • Prosecutors

  • Court officials

  • Probation officers

  • Victim service providers

  • PCCs and local criminal justice boards

We have capacity to work with your quantitative data as part of our project and provide you with insights into how COVID-19 is affecting the performance of your organisation. We have deep experience of working with agencies across the criminal justice system and are committed to helping our partners during this challenging time. See previous examples of our work, including our case studies and a recent project into Measuring the effectiveness of criminal justice systems.

If you would like to know more or have questions about how you could be involved, please email or, or call us on 020 3542 8993.


The UK's only consultancy dedicated to crime and justice.

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