Published 30 March 2019
Rising serious violence was the signature crime and justice issue of 2018. In 2019 it is all about how the police will respond. And with a Spending Review set to redraw the financial envelope (helpfully or otherwise) for the next few years, what should crime and justice professionals be looking out for? We got our collective Crest brains together to discuss.
Where there’s fear, there’s votes?
Concern about crime is on the rise - and not just among the over 65s and in urban areas. According to YouGov polling, crime is now the second biggest issue of public concern, behind Brexit. Yet crime levels alone cannot explain this. For example, London suffered 130 homicides in 2018 compared to 220 in 2003 - yet concern about crime reached at a seven year high.
Could viral videos of brazen moped gangs, youths brandishing knives and police officers being assaulted be partly behind this increase in public fear? Irrespective, public concern generates political interest and so the debate around police cuts and other issues is likely to intensify, particularly once the countdown begins to PCC elections in May 2020.
What price policing?
The financial commitment to the NHS confirmed in last year’s Budget means few in policing have hopes for a generous Spending Review later this year. It is true that the Home Office has agreed to plug the hole in forces’ pensions and allow PCCs the options of increasing the council tax precept. Yet the suspicion must be that the cracks are opening up in frontline policing. Crest’s own research suggests strongly that some forces are unlikely to have the resources they need to meet demand, including non-crime demand such as mental health call outs. HMIC’s thematic inspection recognised this growing burden and blamed inadequate healthcare provision for it. At the same time, increased reporting of sexual offences and domestic abuse has given policing a more complex caseload. Overall detection rates are at an historic low of 9% with some Chief Constables openly admitting their officers are overstretched. The public, however, is unwilling to lower its expectations.
Without more resources, chiefs will have to make ever harder choices about where to allocate their resources. A force can choose to no longer attend or investigate shoplifting. But at what cost to its legitimacy?
Breaking the cycle?
The future for the broader criminal justice system is no less bleak. As social dysfunction grows, manifested in increasing homelessness, poverty and mental health problems, we anticipate a renewed focus on vulnerability. The challenge facing courts, probation and other agencies is how to address the complex needs of increasingly vulnerable offenders with fewer resources and partners who have their own problems to solve. Crest has long advocated further devolution as a solution because pooling budgets at a local level will allow shared, innovative and preventative approaches.
Reforming the reforms?
Probation reform continues to be a headline event as the sector seeks to chart a viable course out of the Transforming Revolution (TR) era. In Wales, the devolved government has made the case to take over probation contracts from the Ministry of Justice and consolidate them into a ‘national’ approach. In England, we do not yet know which of the current community rehabilitation companies will bid and secure the new contracts. A key point to look out for will be how these new contracts are incentivised in the future after widespread criticism of the TR model.
Has the prisons crisis gone away?
Prisons have been relatively quiet in recent months but it is too soon to think the fundamental problems of high levels of violence, legal (and illegal) highs and a demoralised service have been fixed. Rory Stewart’s pledge to quit as Prisons Minister by 17 August 2019 if violence in jails does not decline will be inked into the home affairs journalists’ calendars. Despite warm words from ministers and small declines in prisoner numbers, the step change in sentencing policy - to reduce the use of short term sentences - has not yet materialised. In our view, it is unlikely to without a significant shift in the provision of more robust community alternatives that can rebuild the confidence of sentencers.
Politics, money and Brexit
Despite growing public concern about crime, especially serious violence, Brexit inevitably continues to dominate. As a result, the legislative calendar for Parliament remains largely empty.
The current political paralysis should ultimately be resolved at some point this year, but will it enable solutions to be found to intractable problems, such as those facing criminal justice?