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If you could change one thing...

Thursday 22 December 2016

Prison unrest, struggling probation providers, ongoing police reform and the ever present forces of austerity and technological change mean the need for new-thinking across criminal justice is as great as ever in 2017. Here, each member of the Crest Advisory team explains what they would do, if they could change just one thing...

1. Open up local criminal justice boards to the public


"Open justice begins with open process. Britain has a long tradition of open courts and public involvement in common law practices, from local magistrates, to juries to public legislators. But nominally open justice has become increasingly restricted by closed bureaucracy. Nowhere is this more evident than in Local Criminal Justice Boards, where police chiefs, prosecutors, probation leads and others meet to set local priorities, identify problems and agree solutions. You probably won’t have heard of your LCJB. You are very unlikely to have seen them. You certainly won’t know what they do. Because criminal justice boards are invisible: they have no budgets, their leadership is weak and their loyalties are divided between local need and central targets. At the moment they are the place the local criminal justice system washes its dirty linen – in private. Criminal justice boards need to be dragged into the light. Publicity will give them power; power to respond to public need; power to improve performance; power to inspire public confidence."

Chris Salmon, Interim Director of Policy

2. Enable local areas to do more to prevent crime


"Being ‘tough on the causes of crime’ was criticised as a statement of the obvious in the 1990s. But in 2017, the resources local authorities invest in activities and places for young people to go in the evenings and weekends (it was called youth work for those who are too young to remember it) have dwindled away. For the generation of kids who’ve missed out on support over the last few years, the impact will get more severe. Already, according to research into local youth service published in 2016, 77% report increased mental health issues among young people, there’s a 70% a rise in increased alcohol and substance abuse and 83% reported increased crime and anti-social behaviour. In the current economic climate, the only way this will begin to change will be if local areas can begin to make their own decisions about services that can deliver preventative work, particularly important for young people on the fringes of the criminal justice system. Manchester is leading the way, having agreed to take on local control of certain areas of the criminal justice system. 2017 could be the year others begin to follow suit."

Jo Coles, Senior Communications Consultant

3. Overhaul the use of out of court disposals


"Currently, too many criminals who commit lower level crimes are dealt with through the use of Simple Cautions or Cannabis Warnings. These disposals are ineffective and unpopular. They do little to change the behaviour of offenders and offer precious little justice to the victims. If lower level crime isn’t nipped in the bud early on, it can lead to more serious crime later on, undermining public confidence in the process. The government should give PCCs powers to redesign out of court disposals, for example, by scrapping cautions and replacing them with restorative disposals, which require offenders to make good on the damage caused or pay back to the community. These disposals could be backed up by the threat of prosecution, if the offender fails to comply. This would be tougher than using Simple Cautions or Cannabis Warnings and ultimately more effective – ensuring that the roots of someone’s offending is dealt with head on, rather than ignored and/or tolerated."

Harvey Redgrave, Director of Strategy and Delivery

4. Police must improve how they communicate with the public


"The core to British policing is Sir Robert Peel’s principle of ‘Policing with Consent’. Yet that very principle appears to be being eroded more and more. An open and transparent police service requires an open and transparent approach to policing. Yet for many forces, engagement and communication with the very people that they serve is not given the priority it should be. It cannot be right that victims of crime are not kept informed about developments in investigations; communities see crimes taking place or have fears about their safety but cannot raise them, as local officers are no longer there and police stations are closed. Equally, it is clear that the Leveson settlement on police-media relations has led to the public being less informed about how forces exercise powers and spend money on their behalf. If the service is to maintain the confidence of the public it needs to ‘show not tell’. Controversies about tactics and equipment such as spit hoods show an urgent need for the service to communicate better, to show evidence of need and to take people with them. As Peel said the ‘police are the public and the public are the police’. Don’t let that key principle be lost in today’s society."

Chris Webb, Associate Director of Development and Crisis Communications

5. Co-commission youth offender rehabilitative services between youth offending services and prisons


"Prison governors and Youth Offending Teams are doing their best to deliver effective interventions and support young offenders who have received custodial sentences. But both suffer from a lack of intelligence sharing, and disjointed programmes result in an incoherent journey for the offender. Co-commissioning would allow both services to collate information in a way that is transferable between systems, so that offenders can complete interventions smoothly, both in and out of prisons. Joint structures and relationships are known to have a positive effect on halting reoffending. Moreover, programmes could be mutually evaluated if they were co-designed."

Callyane Desroches, Policy Analyst

6. Communications support for coroners


"Anyone with any experience of, or contact with the Coroner’s Court or the coronial system will know that it can both look and feel like the most archaic part of the justice system. For some families, especially those without access to advice, there is a need for more transparency, better access to support and information about how it all works. For a family going through the worst of times to not feel alienated and disenfranchised by an impenetrable system which they are looking to for answers. Also, it feels like there is a tangible lack of consistency in decisions made in coroners courts – which points to a lack of joined up thinking on policy and process across government. Coroners too would benefit from advice and support on how to handle media and stakeholders during high profile cases, for example deaths by terrorism abroad or those involving the police and intelligence services. Ensuring that proceedings run smoothly, expectations are managed and the public has confidence in findings depends heavily on good communications, especially in an age of instant social media commentary."

Charlotte Phillips, Associate Director of Communications and Engagement

7. Involve service-users in the training process for service-providers


"Bridging the gap between offenders and those who work with them in various capacities (from sentencers, to prison staff and probation officers), by facilitating training sessions by ex-offenders, would add a layer of intelligence and awareness to service providers. Particularly for newer members of staff coming in to work in justice services, there can be little ‘real’ understanding of the motivations, experiences and thought-processes of an offender. This training would help service providers to build trust by demonstrating they have taken the time to build an understanding of service users’ perspectives. It would also strengthen their ability to challenge and question service-users in an effective manner. Both these benefits would allow services to be provided in the most effective way possible, minimise risks of reoffending, rehabilitate offenders, and provide adequate levels of punishment where needed."

Sophie du Mont, Strategy and Delivery Analyst

8. Create a new offence of making threats to inflict sexual violence


"MPs get them online or in the post, girls and women get them on the street. Everywhere you look these days, threats of rape and other sexual violence are use to intimidate, silence or terrorise women and their families. It’s been an offence to threaten to kill someone since 1861 and if convicted today you get up to 10 years in prison (or life if you present a ‘significant risk of serious harm to the public’). But the maximum penalty for threatening to rape or sexually assault is 6 months under harassment, stalking or threatening behaviour laws. If we’re serious about turning the tide of violent misogyny, we need to deal with this anomaly. There needs to be a deterrent for offenders and an incentive for law enforcement to take rape threats more seriously, particularly when online. The prospect of substantial jail time and their names on the Sex Offenders Register would deter trolls and create internal demand for police to invest more resources on investigations and training."

Jon Clements, Director of Communications and Campaigns

9. Drug policy reform


"In my view, the biggest issue facing the criminal justice system right now is that demand is far outstripping supply/resources. A large portion of this demand could be dealt with through a more progressive and health-based approach to how the system deals with drug offences. I would like to see the legalisation of cannabis to reflect the low priority it already receives from police and the creation of an independent scientific body to set drug classifications rather than the Home Office, which politicises the issue unduly. I would like to see the creation of safe user rooms in clinics and divert those arrested for possession of drugs into alternatives to custody, such as education or treatment, and legislate so that this does not warrant a criminal record. A similar system exists in Portugal and there are already “diversion” schemes similar to this in place in Devon and in Avon and Somerset. It reduces demand on police and the courts, and prevents otherwise non-offenders from entering the criminal justice system."

Niall Blake-Knox, Communications and Policy Analyst


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