Batman and Robin, Ant and Dec, Torville and Dean, Ben and Jerry, Thelma and Louise. Great partnership working makes it all look so easy. If only it was so easy for the rest of us. Partnership working is, normally, not that interesting. And so, the latest inspection of local criminal justice partnerships, ‘Working in Step?’, was pushed off the front-page by stop and search and President Xi’s visit.
That is unsurprising in one sense: when everything is stripped away, what partnership really means is people sharing information and talking to each other – something more likely to conjure images of dusty rooms and flipcharts than flashing lights and car chases. But the quality of these exchanges matter. So when the HMIC says that Local Criminal Justice Partnerships (LCJP) aren’t functioning properly, we should sit up and take notice.
The Criminal Justice System, to the extent that it is a ‘system’ at all, is comprised of a series of distinctive, yet interconnected agencies, none of whom can fulfil their objectives unless they cooperate. If the police arrest a suspect but don’t involve the prosecution service early enough, the case against the suspect can collapse, which leaves nobody happy. Attempting to identify and track down the five per cent of prolific offenders who drive up to half of all crime is impossible without the police, prisons and probation services sharing information about who and where they are and coordinating their activities. But according to the HMIC, criminal justice partnerships are failing to perform even the most basic joint working.
Silo mentality in the criminal justice system
First, HMIC say that in many areas they can’t even get started, failing to agree a set of priorities and objectives. It really should not be acceptable in the 21st century, with the technology and tools we have at our fingertips, for criminal justice agencies to fail to agree which crimes they are going to focus on, or which areas they will prioritise.
A second problem is that in too many parts of the country, agencies remain stuck in a silo mentality: by focusing solely on themselves they fail to appreciate the interdependencies between them, and are not incentivised to try and save money if they think the savings will flow to a different agency. Rather than coming together to agree one single view of performance, and putting pressure on each other to improve, they are more likely to hunker down into their individual bunkers, blaming each other when things go wrong.
Finally, HMIC make clear that existing LCJPs are invisible to the communities and people that rely on them. Very few people know who they are or what they are supposed to be doing. This is often explained away by the argument that such partnerships often deal with sensitive and complex information, which would make little sense to the public. This is a cop out. If the data were accessible the public would interrogate it. Without accountability, the system is destined to keep repeating the same mistakes and letting victims down in the process.
Inter-agency partnerships critical for the future of criminal justice system
There are some honourable exceptions to the picture painted in this report including partnerships in Dorset, Dyfed Powys and Staffordshire. In Dorset, for example, the criminal justice board have commissioned Crest to design and build a performance dashboard creating a single shared view of performance across the CJS and enabling agencies to hold each other to account. (Watch a video demo of the Crest performance dashboard.)
So, inter-agency partnership working might sound boring, but it’s critical to the future of the CJS. By agreeing priorities, sharing information, establishing a single picture of performance, and sharing evidence of what works, the agencies that make up the criminal justice system will be in a much better position to cut crime.