Published 19 November 2019
Brexit, broadband and borrowing may have dominated the general election battleground so far, but this campaign could be crucial in setting the future direction of home affairs policy, not least how to respond to the rise in serious violence, declining police productivity and the creaking state of our justice system.
With concern about crime continuing to rise among the electorate (behind only Brexit and the NHS), Crest has produced the briefing below on the five key crime and justice challenges for any party hoping to win power on 12 December.
1. Violence and sexual offences will, over the next parliament, make up more than half of police workload
A growing proportion of the police’s workload is being taken up with responding to violence and sexual offences. Modelling by Crest suggests that between 2018 and 2023, these offences will grow from 47 per cent to 57 per cent as a proportion of total police workload.
Some of that increase is due to better police recording practices and to victims being more likely to come forward than in the past. However, it also reflects some genuine increases. For example, violent offences such as knife crime, robbery and homicide tend to be better recorded and have all risen substantially since 2014.
Who, and therefore how, the forces recruit will need to reflect this shift, for example through placing more emphasis on specialist investigative skills.
2. Policing needs more than 20,000 additional officers to plug the demand gap
The Conservatives are promising to restore the exact same number of officers that were lost as a result of cuts to police funding between 2010 and 2015. However, modelling undertaken by Crest suggests this won’t be enough to plug the gaps in demand that have grown since then.
Policing across England and Wales has been operating at or over capacity since 2017. We estimate that 32,000 additional officers will be needed across England and Wales by 2023 to meet the growth in demand - at a cost of £2.3bn over 2 years.(2)
3. The gap between crimes reported and offenders caught has never been bigger
The national charge/summons rate (the proportion of offenders that are charged by the police or prosecution service with a specific offence, or asked to appear in court within a year) has fallen since 2015 from 16.6 per cent to 8.7 per cent. Even though recorded crime is increasing, the number of people the criminal justice system is dealing with has fallen to record low levels.
Some of that is likely to be down to an increase in complex crimes, such as child sexual exploitation (CSE), and the fact that investigating crimes is itself becoming more challenging (e.g. because of the need to digitally download evidence). However, the size of the drop suggests there may also be a problem around falling police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) productivity in England and Wales, which needs to be addressed urgently.
This raises profound questions of legitimacy around criminal justice. If the public don’t think crime is being acted on, they will stop reporting crime and agreeing to participate as witnesses.
Boris Johnson's announcement that knife crime offenders will be charged and prosecuted three times faster will be politically popular. With only 36 per cent(5) of possession of weapons offences currently charged (an extraordinarily low proportion given that in the vast majority of cases the suspect is literally caught in the act), we will need to see drastic improvements in the charge rate as well as the speed at which they are processed to start to address the problem of serious violence.
4. Courts are taking longer than ever to resolve cases and victims continue to be let down
The wheels of justice are slowing down. Though fewer suspects are coming before the criminal courts, victims are waiting longer than ever for offenders to be brought to justice: nationally, the average time taken from offence to completion in the magistrates court is currently 160 days (5 and half months).
Backlogs are increasing: the rate at which trials are deemed ‘ineffective’ has increased from 12 per cent to 14 per cent since 2010. Meanwhile, many courts sit empty. A snapshot survey conducted by criminal barrister Jonathan Dunne revealed that out of 260 Crown Court rooms available for criminal trials, nearly half (127) were empty on a given day. In one court (Southwark), 12 out of 15 rooms did not sit on the selected day.
5. Prisons are staffed with inexperienced officers and are increasingly dangerous
Since 2010, demand has continued to grow on our prisons, while budgets have declined by 14 per cent in real terms(6). The government is now attempting to re-employ staff who left the prison service during this time, but significant experience within the workforce has been lost in the process: in the year ending March 2019, over a third (35 per cent) of band 3-5 prison officers(7) have been in the job a year or less, compared to just seven per cent in 2010. (8)
Prison safety statistics show the service is increasingly overstretched, with the latest release revealing record high levels of self-harm and assault.(9)
Conditions in the youth custodial estate have worsened too, with not one youth custodial institution receiving a ‘good’ assessment for safety in 2017/18. (12)
Custodial sentences are associated with the highest reoffending rates of all court disposals(13), and with less money and less experienced staff dedicated to rehabilitating offenders whilst they serve their sentence, it is likely prisons’ effectiveness will only get worse.
1. Police Outcome Data, Year ending March 2019, Table B2
2. Assuming the cost of recruitment and training is £12,900 per officer and annual payroll costs are £30,520 per officer, and officers are productive for 70 per cent of their contracted hours
3. Police Outcome Data, Year ending March 2019, Table B2
4. Police Outcome Data, Year ending March 2019, Table B2
5. 36 per cent of crimes recorded year ending March 2019 resulted in a charge, 12% were yet to be assigned an outcome.
7. Band 3-5 prison officers represent the key operational grades in public sector prisons: band 3 prison officers; band 4 officer specialists; band 4 supervising officers; and band 5 custodial managers.
8. HM Prison and Probation Service workforce quarterly: March 2019. Table 4
9. Safety in custody: quarterly update to June 2019: Safety in custody summary tables to June 2019. Table 1
10. Safety in custody: quarterly update to June 2019: Safety in custody summary tables to June 2019. Table 1
11. HM Prison and Probation Service workforce quarterly: March 2019. Table 3
13. Proven reoffending statistics: July to September 2017. Table C1a