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Executive summary: Examining the case for justice devolution

Report author: Harvey Redgrave

Wednesday 14 December 2016

REPORT (PDF): Examining the case for justice devolution

In a world of rising demand and shrinking budgets, justice devolution is firmly on the agenda and there is growing interest in and support for the idea of a more localised justice system.

Executive summary


At the heart of this paper is a simple proposition: in a world of shrinking budgets, local leaders must be empowered to join up services in order to deal with the root cause of crime, rather than managing its consequences.

Long term social and demographic shifts in our society mean that, whoever the government of the day happens to be, the criminal justice system (CJS) is facing a permanent reduction in public funding, with any spare or additional resources likely to be directed towards health and social care in future. In such a world, it is no longer enough to improve efficiency of individual criminal justice agencies. The aim must be to rewire the system entirely so that the pipeline of offenders is smaller and can be more intelligently managed.

Yet currently, the CJS is unable to meet this challenge because of an overly centralised and siloed model of delivery, which stifles joint working and innovation. As this report will show, pockets of good practice exist, but they are not systematically embedded. Too much time and money is spent managing failure, rather than dealing with problems at source. And agencies are not incentivised to work together in building services around the needs of victims and communities.

This report advocates a rebalancing of power between central government and local areas on criminal justice policy. We are not in favour of justice devolution for its own sake, but instead argue that it needs to be part of a coherent vision and strategy for reform. That does not mean prescribing what reform should look like in all areas. By definition, devolution will occur at different speeds, and in different ways. But neither should it mean a complete free-for-all: powers ought to be devolved for a purpose, in the service of a broader vision for change. We recommend that devolution is designed in order to foster:

services built around the needs of victims and communities;

  • stronger local leadership and accountability;

  • investment in prevention, rather than paying for the costs of failure;

  • joined up and innovative solutions for reducing crime.

As such, we recommend a number of areas ripe for full devolution to police and crime commissioners (PCCs) and directly elected mayors:

  • youth justice;

  • the adult prison budget for short sentenced prisoners;

  • witness services.

There are a number of areas where we recommend a greater degree of co-commissioning:

  • prosecution priorities;

  • management of magistrates’ courts;

  • management of prolific offenders;

  • out of court disposals.

We also argue that there are a number of areas where devolution is not appropriate. These include:

  • the high secure prison estate;

  • management of offenders serving long custodial sentences;

  • management of Crown Courts.

A key criterion for these reforms is the existence of strong governance and democratic accountability. The choices that are made about the direction and shape of criminal justice policy - about what threats to prioritise, about how and where to deploy resources and about the solutions that are implemented - are acutely political and deserve to be the subject of public scrutiny and debate.

Crime is not a single event, but a journey for offenders (and victims), with different points at which agencies can potentially intervene. Many of the levers for reducing crime lie outside the CJS, with health, education, employment and housing services. The focus of this report thus extends beyond reform within the CJS - looking at the relationship between criminal justice agencies and other local public services in tackling the underlying causes of crime and making communities safer.


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