Why the criminal justice system is in trouble
Harvey Redgrave looks at the factors challenging the CJS in his whiteboard video
Hello. My name is Harvey Redgrave and I am Director of Strategy here at Crest Advisory. I’m going to talk to you today about why the criminal justice system is in trouble, even though crime itself has been falling.
There are five major points I’m going to talk to. The first is that crime itself is changing.
So about a decade ago, traditional so-called ‘volume crimes’, like burglary and car theft, were the majority of crime. And now there are newer types of crime that just weren’t on the radar a decade ago, like online fraud which is now about half of total crime in this country. But there are also hidden types of crimes, like domestic abuse, sexual violence, child sex abuse, which are increasingly being uncovered in the home, in private spaces rather than in public spaces. And that is putting pressure not just on our police service but on our courts and on our prisons, because those types of crimes are more complex and costly to investigate, and they’re driving demand right across the system.
The second point is that criminals are changing.
Crime is changing but the people that commit those crimes are changing too. And it’s true that the overall total number of offenders in front of the courts is smaller than it was a decade ago, but that cohort of offenders is arguably more challenging than it used to be. They tend to have very chaotic and complex lives, suffering from a range of different problems like homelessness, drug misuse, substance misuse and so on, which require agencies from across the justice system but also outside of the justice system – like the housing authorities, health and education – to get involved and try and effectively manage that offender’s life. Those offenders are also more prolific than they used to be; about 10 per cent more offenders in prison now, have committed 15 or more previous offences than was the case a decade ago. And that speaks to this suggestion that criminals themselves are becoming harder to manage than they used to be.
The third point is that society is changing.
Crime obviously doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Society has become or is becoming more unequal between the top 5% and the bottom 5% but the impact of crime is also being felt in very different ways. If you grow up in some communities in the country, you’re three or four times more likely to be a victim of crime or to be involved in crime yourself, than if you grow up in another part of the country. And what that means is that the justice system has to be configured and the resources distributed in a way that reflects the fact that crime is not evenly spread.
Point number 4 is that the resources are being squeezed.
The criminal justice system has had budgets cut by about a fifth since 2010; that’s had an impact on the ability of prison officers to keep control of prisons; it’s had an impact on the ability of prosecution services to bring effective prosecutions against offenders; and it’s generally had an impact right across, from probation to the courts, on our ability to process offenders through the system and bring offenders to justice. That’s a pressure that’s only going to get worse, frankly. Whoever wins the election, over the next five years we expect the Ministry of Justice to have to find about a billion pounds’ worth of savings, and so as a non-protected area of public spending, the justice system can expect more pressure on resources.
The fifth and final point is that the system itself – the criminal justice system (if you can call it that) – has not reformed.
It is still not fully digitised, there’s still far too much effort and focus on the back end of the system – locking people up, for example, for short sentences which we know is an ineffective way both of punishing them but also of rehabilitating those people and preventing crime. We would be much better off putting that money earlier on to stop young people from ending up in the justice system to begin with. And we need the different agencies that make up the justice system – the police, the courts, the probation service, prisons – we need them to work towards a shared sense of objective and have a shared mission. At the moment they are a loosely collected affiliation of agencies that work in silos and that don’t really talk to each other. That cannot continue in a world where demand is going up and resources are going down.
So those are the challenges that I’ve laid out. None of them are insurmountable. Here at Crest Advisory we work with police and crime commissioners, with chief constables, police organisations and with other agencies of the criminal justice system to deal with and tackle some of these problems head on. And if you’d like to hear more about what we do, please do get in touch, look at our website or give us a call. Thank you very much.
Harvey Redgrave is Managing Director at Crest Advisory. Prior to joining Crest, Harvey spent four years advising on home affairs policy for the Labour Party and was a deputy director at the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit.
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