Published 4 May 2015
UPDATE: As it happened we (like a lot of others) were wrong… policing took everyone by surprise in featuring heavily in the election in response to the appalling events in Manchester and London.
It’s all about strong and stable leadership! It’s all about the NHS! It’s all about Brexit! It’s all about independence! Four weeks from polling day two things are clear about General Election 2017. Firstly, the main parties disagree about what the defining issue is.
Secondly, the main parties do agree that, whatever else it may be, it’s not criminal justice. We wrote about this last month and nothing has happened to change our view.
The difficulties Labour had in explaining how it would fund its plan to put 10,000 extra police officers on the street left no room to debate the merits or otherwise of the actual policy. With the other main parties fighting narrow campaigns about Brexit or what they claim flows naturally from it, the criminal justice debate feels over before it began.
As a result, Crest’s team of experts has set out what they would like to see in our own criminal justice manifesto for #GE17.
Crest's alternative manifesto
1. Force tech companies to design out crime or be named and shamed
The recent report by the Home Affairs Committee into how social media has facilitated hate crime, harassment and extremism was timely indeed. In the same way car manufacturers in the 90s were forced to design out crime, tech companies must take practical steps to prevent their platforms being used to inflict misery on often highly vulnerable people. If they don’t, advertisers should be incentivised to vote with their feet and protect their brands. For example, police forces and other agencies should be obliged to publish quarterly data showing which social media platforms feature how often in the commission of criminal offences.
2. Give magistrates powers to call back offenders and review their sentences
We know that most young offenders do not, one day, mysteriously transform into hardened criminals. Often, they come into contact with the criminal justice system time and time again for low level offences. Magistrates are frustrated at their inability to get to the root cause of the offending and understand the effect of their sentence. Why not take advantage of the diminishing numbers of young offenders going to court and focus resources on long-term solutions? Magistrates should be allowed to call back offenders to monitor their progress and review their sentences. A strong magistrate-defendant relationship, especially with prolific offenders, is a first step towards a whole systems approach.
3. More (and better) policing on the streets
Is flooding the streets with extra bobbies the answer? It might be but it’s not the only answer. Giving police the power to harness smarter technology is the future of policing. As smart technology gains momentum, policing has to catch up. How technology supports the relationship between different agencies across the criminal justice system can be improved by smarter, more efficient use of technology.
How many shocking headlines have we read about where someone ‘slipped through’ the system? OK, smarter technology might not be the only answer but police must absolutely be given access to and training in the best technology available. We give them consent to protect us - let's make sure that in a technological era they can do it as best they can. Putting more planning and, yes, more money into the police innovation fund so new technology can be tested has to be the answer.
4. Give PCCs and mayors the responsibility and budgets to intervene early so young people are kept out of the CJS
Children at risk today are often the criminals of tomorrow. Kids who are persistently truant, are excluded from school, or whose parents/siblings are sent to prison, are much more likely to end up in the criminal justice system than their peers. Yet too often, such kids only get support once they’ve started offending, by which time it is too late. PCCs and mayors should be given the responsibility (and budget) to intervene earlier so a bad situation is not made ten times worse. This would require some upfront investment but we would only need to succeed once for it to pay for itself.
5. Better protection for generation digital
Sexual violence should never be allowed to fester unchecked and unchallenged. Yet in schools, colleges, playgrounds and shopping centres, as well as on the smartphones of #generationdigital, countless serious sexual offences are being committed on a daily basis. Countless because they are too often unreported and therefore un-counted. The ticking time bomb of hidden/unreported crime not only puts police resources in the wrong places, but stores up a cacophony of other problems for future years. How about a one-off levy on the pornography industry and another on big cyber companies to take on unreported crimes via youth workers and specialist police.
6. Make banks come clean on the scale of online fraud
Cybercrime and fraud accounts for half of all recorded crime, while 46% of UK businesses fell victim to cyberattacks in the last 12 months and this is likely to be a fraction of the reality.
Current oversight and investigation is inadequate too. Victims report incidents to Action Fraud or their bank, if at all. Neither are compelled to investigate. Most cyber offences exist in limbo - not significant enough for the National Crime Agency and too small or complex for forces. A legislative requirement on banks to report cybercrime would at least give a better understanding of the scale of the problem - Niall Blake-Knox.
7. Rehabilitation and intensive punishment for young people in their community
For young, low-level offenders (aged 18-25) who pose little threat to society and are at risk of receiving the first of many short stints in prison, the default sentence should be an intensive community order not custody. This presumption against imprisonment would restrict the use of short custodial sentences for this group, and ensure a more onerous community sentence aimed at tackling the root causes of offending behaviours - such as lack of employment, support or skills. The sentence would provide swift, certain, tailored punishment and support to desist in the community, and seek to avoid the social and economic costs of an early life spent cycling in and out of prison.