Executive summary: Rewiring justice: Transforming punishment and rehabilitation for the 21st century

Report authors: Harvey Redgrave, Sophie du Mont, Faerlie Wilson, Manon Roberts

Tuesday 11 September 2018


Report (PDF): Rewiring justice: Transforming punishment and rehabilitation for the 21st century

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The criminal justice system is in crisis. Despite a plethora of reforms, the system is not built to deal with the changing face of crime and the markedly different challenges it now faces compared to a decade ago.

Executive summary

Our justice system is facing markedly different challenges to a decade ago. Crime is more harmful, offenders are more prolific and there is less money available. But the system has failed to adapt. Many of the assumptions underpinning how justice is delivered have remained unchanged for the last 100 years. There are failures at every stage of the ‘offender journey’ through the system:

  • Interventions reach offenders too late

  • Punishment within the community is virtually non-existent, so prison is over-utilised

  • Prisons are overcrowded and thus incapable of proper rehabilitation

  • The social causes of crime and reoffending are neglected

There has been no shortage of ‘reform’ within criminal justice of late but most of these efforts have been doomed to failure. There are two principal reasons for this. Firstly, the reforms were based on flawed assumptions about how to change behaviour. Within the last 15 years alone, prisons and probation have faced two big structural reorganisations – the creation of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) in 2004 and ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ in 2014. While the reforms themselves were very different, they shared some key commonalities. In particular, both were based on outdated ‘new public management’ principles, which meant they prioritised processes over relationships, treated offenders as a monolith, rather than a group of diverse individuals, favoured off-the-shelf solutions over innovation, and most damagingly, failed to address the root causes of offending behaviour. Such approaches may work for ‘transactional’ services such as refuse collection or hip operations. But they are insufficient when managing offenders with complex and chaotic lives.


The second reason reforms have failed is because of an increasingly polarised political debate. For too long, the UK has been stuck in a stale argument between those in favour of a more liberal or welfare-oriented justice system (focused on rehabilitation) on the one hand, and those in favour of a more punitive system (emphasising punishment) on the other. This is a false choice. The solution is not to prioritise punishment or rehabilitation, but to combine both. Currently the system delivers neither objective.

In this report, we draw on learning from other systems both in the UK and internationally, that are transforming themselves to deal with changing demands, in order to set out a new model for reform based on three key principles:

  1. Devolving power to shift money upstream

  2. Integrating services

  3. Deepening relationships


These principles would lead to a very different set of policies, including:

  • Giving Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) and directly elected mayors the power to co-commission offender management services locally and co-design innovative community sentences able to secure the confidence of the public

  • Piloting the establishment of locally embedded, multi-agency ‘prolific offending teams’ (similar to the ‘Youth Offending Team’ model) overseen by Local Criminal Justice Boards

  • Establishing a network of ‘rehabilitation hubs’ for male prolific offenders within police force areas, based on the ‘women’s centre’ model

  • Greater discretion for probation providers in determining the shape of post-sentence supervision to enable them to prioritise their resources efficiently, ensuring more young adult (18-25 year old) offenders are assigned a dedicated lead professional to manage their rehabilitation and resettlement

  • A significant injection of funds into our justice system, with the creation of a new three-year central government £100 million criminal justice transformation fund, and an expansion of the ability of PCCs and Mayors to raise revenue locally via a ‘crime and justice precept’ (raising up to £180 million a year)

  • Changing the incentives for judges with a new national presumption against the use of short custodial sentences (under 6 months) and overhauling community sentences with new minimum standards on intensity, swiftness, enforcement and transparency


We believe that taken together as a package, these reforms will end up generating significant cost savings (our modelling suggests the sentencing reforms alone will reduce costs by at least £29 million, potentially rising to £130 million). However, we do not pretend that in the short term they are cost neutral. There is a need for more honesty in the public policy debate: we are going to need to spend more money on our justice system in order to reap longer term dividends, paid for by an increase in central government and locally raised revenue.


Our overarching goal is a system which sets clear boundaries from the start, dealing swiftly with transgression to prevent escalation; where offenders can be robustly punished in the community in order to remove the pressure on prisons; where prisons become places of rehabilitation; and where services come together to address the root cause of offending, interrupting the cycle of crime. The policies we propose combine radicalism and pragmatism to forge an achievable vision for reform over the next parliaments.

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