Justice and Security: ten crime and justice priorities for the new government
After two decades of decline, volume crime is rising again. But offending is also changing, presenting new and complex challenges for the whole justice system. Policing is struggling to service this demand, and justice agencies have retrenched under austerity pressures and got stuck with old approaches. With a new Prime Minister and ministerial leadership, fresh approaches are possible.
New ministers cannot address rising crime simply by re-inflating the budgets of the current agencies or passing new laws. A new public safety strategy is needed that focuses on structural reform to incentivise prevention, and concrete steps to make the justice system faster and smarter, not more punitive. Trials of radical new approaches should happen alongside system reform, and those tools that have proven efficacy should be rapidly rolled out.
Fresh ideas are needed across four broad themes: the police reform agenda; a radical reorientation of our approach to sentencing; devolution of funding and agency to local areas and away from the national; and investing to scale up innovative crime-fighting technologies for the first time.
Strengthen policing with a new reform agenda
The reforms to police pay, conditions, and local accountability under the Coalition Government now need to be built upon and extended. National structures need to reflect how crime has changed and frontline preventative patrol needs to be secured by boosting neighbourhood teams, with police funding that matches modern service demands and the extra officers deployed to where they will have most impact.
1. Strengthen policing of the online realm: introduce a national cyber constabulary funded by a new Online Safety levy.
2. Increase budgets and reform police funding: guarantee neighbourhood policing, devise a strategy for the deployment of new officers with the right skills and with budgets rising, update the Home Office funding formula to account for modern policing demands.
The current sentencing framework is blunt and reactive when it needs to flexible, preventative, and focused on prolific offenders. Most sentencing fails to deliver good reoffending outcomes and does not command public confidence. Trialling new approaches that prioritise swiftness and certainty, with clear, modest sanctions is preferable to the current model.
3. Fix sentencing: introduce honesty in sentencing and replace automatic release with earned release to make sentencing more effective, especially for violent, prolific offenders.
4. Trial semi-custodial sentences: develop an alternative to short-term prison sentences that are punitive, but less disruptive of employment and housing.
5. Address alcohol-related crime with 24/7 sobriety: authorise all courts to use the AAMR sobriety scheme.
Supercharge justice devolution
The justice devolution agenda has stalled, but early trials show it can work. It is now time to extend it formally. Elected Commissioners are best placed to take over probation services and control budgets for short-term custody so that they can develop a coordinated local offender management plan alongside policing to cut crime and reoffending.
6. Create Police & Justice Commissioners: devolve funding for custody and give elected Commissioners an expanded remit to fund effective court disposals.
7. Restructure probation: devolve probation services to PJCs, restoring it as a local service, integrated with policing.
Expand crime-fighting technologies
The criminal justice system makes insufficient use of technology that can improve outcomes like detection rates with less manpower. Exciting innovations outside law enforcement do not always get translated and tech start-ups struggle to know what public safety agencies need.
8. Leverage new surveillance technologies to fight crime: expand facial recognition and ANPR to tackle gangs and organised crime.
9. Nationwide expansion of GPS tagging: roll out modern geo-location tagging to all courts to improve community supervision and aid crime investigations.
10. Reboot the biometric identity agenda: introduce next generation biometric identity cards for all non-UK citizens.
New police reform agenda
1. Strengthen policing of the online realm
Introduce a national cyber constabulary funded by a new Online Safety Levy
Problem: Crime is rising but also changing, with huge shifts towards online offending.[i] With fewer resources, policing has struggled to maintain service levels to the public, whilst also addressing the new growth area of cyber crime. The 41 local forces have never been resourced to tackle it, and individual constabularies have neither the skills nor tools to develop this capability in the current fiscal climate. Meanwhile the private internet corporations whose platforms can be exploited to victimise people make no financial contribution to the policing of online crime. Their protective efforts are reactive and reliant on user complaints or victim reports, and harmful content is not proactively policed. The internet is a new jurisdictional domain on a par with the advent of the railways 200 years ago. The British Transport Police’s funding model, with all BTP staff paid for exclusively by train operating companies, was established over a century ago to ensure a policing resource for the railways – a new space that attracted criminals and enabled them to move around. The internet also attracts offenders and enables them to operate easily and at low risk of detection, but the policing resource devoted to online crime is minimal, and what does exist is entirely taxpayer funded, and has major skills deficits. Local police forces are continuing to see their mission stretched to encompass reports of criminality in a domain they are not funded or equipped to police – even though the public do not expect (and do not want) the internet to go on being unsafe and unpoliced.
Policy response: As more of our society and economy come to rely on the internet, we have to rethink how we make that online space safer. To modernise policing and tackle this problem, the UK needs a dedicated national cyber constabulary, funded on the polluter pays principle by large internet companies – using the established and successful transport policing precedent. Such a force would take ownership away from local forces so they could be freed to reinvest in tackling neighbourhood crime. The simplest way to fund such an innovation would be by adopting the BTP model to fund a national cyber constabulary, in part funded by a levy on internet firms above a certain size, possibly in addition to some existing national funding streams. With flexible, modern terms and conditions, this new force – headquartered in a major northern city – would be set up to attract the right talent, pay accordingly, and develop a truly nationwide service offer to all victims of online crime. It would focus on fraud, extortion, and online harassment and sexual offences. In doing so, the NCC would both relieve pressure on local policing, clarify operational responsibilities, give victims a better service, and improve the enforcement against online crimes through private partnerships, without draining general police funding, or diverting current national agencies like the NCA from serious threats.
2. Boost resources and reform police funding
Enhance and protect neighbourhood policing with a national fund, recruit the right skills and devise a strategy for the deployment of new officers and as budgets are rising, update the Home Office funding formula to account for modern demands
Problem: The period of austerity reduced policing budgets on average by 20 per cent, and neighbourhood policing has been eroded disproportionately. But beat policing is what local council taxpayers continue to prioritise and have a legitimate expectation that they will receive. The national fund that paid for PCSOs was abolished in 2010, and beyond counter-terrorism, there are now no ring-fence grants directed solely at local policing. As a result, the neighbourhood resource has been eroded by the other urgent demands on policing. The current outdated funding formula exacerbates the problem by under-valuing the service demands of fast-growing urban forces serving younger populations, and the precept limit has not enabled forces to raise enough extra revenue locally. The funding pressures and decline of neighbourhood policing risks turning the police into a purely reactive service that cannot adopt a preventive posture. In 2017, HMIC found that two-thirds of police forces spent on average 13 per cent of their resources on neighbourhood policing out of total police funding of c.£12 billion. This is now too small a share for the importance of this visible, frontline function.
Policy response: With the new Prime Minister’s pledge of a net increase of 20,000 officers between now and 2025, this is the right time to devise a strategy to ensure candidates with the right skills are recruited and that they are then deployed to those areas where they will have most impact. The visible frontline of neighbourhood officers and PCSOs, linked to wards, should be a key focus for this extra resourcing. The Home Office should reintroduce a dedicated, ring-fenced national fund for neighbourhood policing that can only be spent on officers and PCSOs who are in neighbourhood teams linked to local wards. This grant would be allocated to PCCs according to an equal share of an agreed proportion of current funding raised from local ratepayers, on condition that it supplemented existing neighbourhood resources. Areas that chose to raise more from local taxpayers could therefore be guaranteed a larger grant to pay for more local neighbourhood officers, or a mix of constables, PCSOs and community wardens if they chose. Over time, this will act as an incentive for local areas to shoulder more of the cost of policing, whilst being guaranteed that visible neighbourhood officers that the PCC’s budget and precept directly funds will not be withdrawn or abstracted. Chief officers would retain discretion over how neighbourhood teams were structured because there is no one-size-fits-all model for neighbourhood policing, and nor should there be – rural and urban areas and operational demands differ too much. But there should be a guaranteed level of neighbourhood policing resource which only a ring-fenced national fund can deliver. In addition, a full review of the police funding formula – promised and then abandoned in the last Parliament and not yet restarted – should be undertaken in 2020. Easier to accomplish in an era where budgets are rising, a new formula should properly account for population demands and other crime drivers, and the referendum limit on precept increases should be permanently removed so that PCCs can raise additional extra funding locally if they choose. A strategy for the 20,000 uplift in officers should also consider which national agencies – in particular the NCA – that that cannot rely on local funding increases to meet rising demand should receive a share of the new resources.
3. Fix sentencing
Introduce honesty in sentencing and replace automatic release with earned release to make sentencing more effective, especially for prolific and violent offenders most prone to reoffending and causing serious harm.
Problem: The new Prime Minister has committed to sentencing reform to ensure that certain offenders serve more of their sentence in prison, to protect the public. For some time, public confidence in sentencing has been too low. Compared to 2015, courts are imprisoning fewer prolific offenders. High reoffending rates persist. Using prison to incapacitate prolific offenders can reduce crime, but to be effective, sentencing needs to sort the riskiest prisoners who are prone to reoffend at a high rate from those offenders who will desist if given the right support, or who will otherwise age out of offending. Our current sentencing framework does not do this, so scarce prison resources are applied too generally and so are misdirected. Automatic early release for most prisoners also undermines the credibility of the system in the public’s eyes, but this sentencing framework is also bad policy. It is a blunt mechanism that cannot control for risk, and because it is automatically applied, it is not adjusted for conduct in prison, and offers no incentive for rehabilitation.[ii] Sentencing should be more flexible and used to empower those that manage offenders – judges and prison governors – to incentivise rehabilitation and target custody resources appropriately. Prolific, violent offenders should be subject to a sentencing framework that accounts for their higher likelihood to reoffend, and to cause more harm when they do so.
Policy Response: We do not need to make the prison system larger or all sentences longer to restore public confidence. Instead we need to make sentencing less rigid and more risk-based, and prisons more effective, by targeting the prison cells we have on incapacitating the most dangerous and the most prolific offenders. Repeat non-violent offenders whose behaviour is driven by drug addiction and mental ill health should be managed in the community within a stricter community sentencing regime backed by GPS tagging (see 9. below) and underpinned by addiction and health treatment. But for repeat violent offenders, prosecutors should be given new guidelines that target prolific cases so more of these offenders are taken to court, using AI models to calculate recidivism risk as New York does. And courts should have new sentences available to control the violent, repeat criminals who reoffend at the highest rate. Judges must have discretion, and automatic life sentences should be retained for the most serious violent crimes like murder, but prison governors should gain new powers to decide a prisoner’s release date based on the sentencing release window set by the judge, and the prisoner’s risk and conduct in prison. This new legislative framework would replace automatic release with a new system of ‘Earned Release’. Enabling prison governors to keep in custody longer those who fail to engage while bringing forward the release date of those that do will incentivise good behaviour, help jail staff maintain order, and make prison more effective. We should also be clearer what sentencing actually means. New honesty in sentencing rules would require all judges to pronounce in plain English at sentencing exactly what a prison term means in practice, including naming the earliest possible release date, and the explaining the possibility that a prolific offender under this new sentencing regime may have to serve their whole sentence in prison, if they fail to earn earlier release.
4. Trial semi-custodial sentences
Develop an alternative to short-term prison sentences that are punitive, but less disruptive of employment and housing
Problem: Short term sentences deliver poor reoffending outcomes but do cause significant disruption to the prison system. They also cost offenders their housing and jobs which further undermines their chances. Prison sentences of under 6 months (release after 12 weeks) are simultaneously too short and too long – not long enough to make meaningful rehabilitation interventions, and too long to be effective at changing behaviour because they are not applied consistently. Magistrates continue to use short-term custody because alternatives are not sufficiently punitive, or because offenders have not desisted after several community orders, and because custody at least prevents reoffending in the short-term. Sentencers are using community disposals less, and suspended sentences more – but these disposals lack flexibility and result in automatic custody if the conditions are breached. There is no semi-custodial option currently available to courts.[iii] As such, there is too big a cliff-edge between community sentences and prison.
Policy Response: Before moving to curtail the powers of courts to impose short sentences, the Ministry of Justice should develop an alternative that is likely to be adopted by magistrates. This would involve trialling a new semi-custodial order that magistrates and District Judges could apply in lieu of a suspended sentence. For those convicted offenders who are employed, the semi-custodial order could be made flexible to require a period of custody time to be served at weekends only. These sentences where prisoners remained able to attend college, or work, during the day, could be combined with GPS tagging and new models of custody that were cheaper to operate and outside the national prison system. As part of a pilot, a local area could be invited to pilot a low security ‘Community Custody Centre’ that would have overnight accommodation and basic security, but minimal day-time programming. Breach protocols for offenders on these semi-custodial orders would follow the HOPE probation model of rapid, short spells of imprisonment after every breach, amounting to a few days each and every time. Recall would be automatic and not subject to probation discretion. This trial would provide sentencers with a flexible, community-based sentence that also had a punitive custody element, built around effective sanctioning approaches that have been proven to impact behaviour. Reinforcing the supervision with GPS tags would improve compliance, without undermining rehabilitation or protective factors like maintaining employment. A hybrid sentence of this kind is an option that courts currently do not have, and there are many offenders who might qualify for this approach, in advance of resorting to a conventional prison sentence.
5. Address alcohol-related crime with 24/7 sobriety
Authorise all courts to use the AAMR sobriety scheme
Problem: Alcohol remains the single biggest driver of crime in the UK, and the minority of heavy drinkers represent a disproportionate amount of domestic abuse cases and night-time street violence. Between 40-50 per cent of violent offences reported to the police are alcohol-related. Drink drivers are highly likely to be repeat offenders and the harm they cause can be catastrophic. Most courts currently have no sentencing powers that target the source of this offending in a way that simultaneously punishes offenders but does not involve repeated use of short prison sentences.[iv] Reducing alcohol-related offending by people already convicted of violent offences would have a disproportionate impact on levels of community violence, but targeting these offenders with a reliable community-based testing regime, has only be trialled on a small scale for a few years, and was recently discontinued before the final evaluation was produced, and just when it was starting to gain traction among courts and probation. Magistrates found sobriety tagging to be an effective tool in London and compliance rates were far better than any other community order. Recent funding pressures from the Ministry of Justice combined with an unwillingness by the Mayor of London’s office to go on funding the scheme themselves led to its early cancellation in 2018.
Policy Response: The law allows for courts to be granted powers to impose GPS location monitoring and Alcohol Abstinence Monitoring Requirements (AAMR) – or 24/7 sobriety orders – that require offenders to wear ankle tags that monitor them continuously. Pilots of AAMR in London show very high levels of compliance (in excess of 90 per cent), with offenders detected instantly as soon as they drink and causing most to avoid drinking at all. Similar schemes in the United States have been proven to reduce reoffending and drink-related mortality, while keeping the public and immediate family members safe from the violence linked to problematic drinking. Technology to roll this out is now on the market, and all courts in England should have this power and there should be the tools available to them – whether that is ignition-lock devices for cars or sobriety breathalysers or transdermal tags – to tackle alcohol related crime, without resorting to fines, or a community sentence, that does not tackle the addiction and behaviour that drives the offending.
Supercharge justice devolution
6. Create Police & Justice Commissioners
Devolve funding for custody and give elected Commissioners an expanded remit to fund effective disposals
Problem: Elected Police & Crime Commissioners are responsible for crime and safety in their community, and increasingly recognised as leaders of the local system, but in reality they only have control of policing strategy and budgets, with most other agencies and local policies beyond their influence or control. One significant driver of crime locally is the reoffending by prisoners on short sentences who are convicted in magistrates’ courts, and currently the costs of this fall on national budgets and local PCCs have no stake in the delivery of criminal justice. The devolution principle that the costs of custody should fall locally to provide a sharper incentive for all agencies to prevent reoffending and stop the overuse of prison is sound, and has already been adopted in the youth justice arena, but it is difficult to implement in the wider CJS without devolution of budgets to accountable actors.[v]
Policy Response: Within certain limits, the elected Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) could be that accountable actor, building on the lessons from previous initiatives, and developing the role into its third electoral term after 2020. Real devolution is about aligning incentives and means real local control, not just more influence. If the budget for all custodial sentences of under 12 months was localised, it would focus local agencies on improving the services they were paying for, while ensuring that the scarce resource of prison was only spent on the most appropriate cases. Areas would be allocated a budget based on their historic demand for short-term custody places arising from local courts, and in future years would be able to keep any under-spend to reinvest in public safety – which could mean diversion schemes, treatment programmes, or enhanced community supervision backed by technology. This way, Commissioners would have a powerful new lever to help reduce crime locally, while being responsible for the costs of imprisonment and the reoffending that occurs in their areas. If Commissioners also gained powers over probation delivery too (see 7. below), they could take a more coordinated approach to community supervision. As PCCs become Police & Justice Commissioners (“PJCs”), expanded functions could be explored, including transferring responsibility for alcohol licensing decisions (a key driver of local police demand) from local authorities, and funding through-the-gate services delivered out of local prisons, or problem-solving pilots in local courts.
7. Restructure probation
Devolve probation to PCCs, restoring it as a local service, integrated with policing
Problem: Without effective probation supervision, reoffending by criminals would lead to even higher rates of victimisation in the community. The most prolific offenders are known to the police and probation staff – they are often the same people and local context is key. The Government has admitted that the 2012-15 reforms to make probation more innovative by outsourcing supervision of lower-risk offenders to private providers has not worked – supervision has been inadequate, companies have failed to maintain staff, and service delivery has suffered. However, centralising the service did not deliver major efficiencies, and aligning probation services with prisons (the approach from NOMS in 2004 through to HMPPS in 2016) was and is a category error that misconceives the true role of probation – which is better seen as a local, community-based service better aligned with policing, and sharing a single crime prevention mission.[vi] Most people on probation are, after all, not ex-prisoners.
Policy Response: Probation has to be accountable and rooted in communities, and it should remain a duty of the State. But that does not mean it should return to being run as a single national agency. Unlike prisons, up until 2008, probation was a local service. Services like probation only perform well when staff have operational freedom, and a close partnership with policing and social services. Instead of restoring probation trusts, which were not accountable to local people, probation services should be devolved to the existing structure of 41 directly-elected Police & Crime Commissioners, on the same boundaries as local police forces. As democratically accountable figures, Commissioners should be responsible for the budget and strategy of community supervision and probation support locally, and free to integrate this within their broader Policing & Crime Plan. By controlling the budget and setting the priorities locally, efficiencies can be realised and local offender management can be better coordinated, with local police and probation staff working more closely and even sharing offices and data – as they do in Sussex. Unfortunately this does not happen enough at present. Rather than nationalising probation to fix a failed privatisation reform, the Government should empower local PCCs to take ownership of probation, so they can tackle offending in their community. With the tools to manage probation locally and closer alignment with policing, offenders out on licence or on a community order can be gripped by the same teams and supported more closely to comply with conditions and engage with rehabilitation. Drug treatment and other rehabilitation services should still be provided by charities and the private sector, who are often more innovative and nimbler.
Expanding crime-fighting technologies
8. Leverage new surveillance technologies to fight crime
Expand facial recognition and ANPR to tackle gangs and fight organised crime
Problem: Outside of major urban centres, CCTV networks are patchy and outdated, and council funding cuts has seen their coverage shrink in recent years. Tools like ANPR can automate the detection of wanted vehicles in near real time, but even this relies on good geographic coverage to be effective, and it is under-used outside of London. Facial recognition is being adopted sporadically, and without strategic investments, or public consultation. Big data and automation is only beginning to be exploited at a national level, and the most promising emerging technology around biometrics is not being embraced. The phenomenon of ‘county lines’ – the penetration of urban drug networks into county towns and seaside resorts as supply has spread – is pernicious and often involves slavery, human trafficking and child exploitation. But detecting these networks and gathering the evidence needed to convict organised crime ring-leaders depends upon surveillance, and cannot be reliant on human agents.[vii]
Policy Response: The value and effectiveness of surveillance should be assessed, in order to dictate where investments would deliver the greatest operational benefits. As former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Lord Hogan-Howe has argued, requiring all petrol stations to fit modern ANPR cameras linked to the local constabulary would give police an expanded surveillance capacity to fight organised crime, and a critical new tool to trace missing persons and gang members, limiting their freedom of movement. ANPR is already a feature of the London road network because of investment by transport authorities, but the security benefits should not accrue only to residents of major cities. Proven software platforms like FaceWatch offer retailers advanced facial recognition technology and an automated alert system to tackle shop theft. Expanding such facial recognition systems to major transit hubs would dramatically increase their effectiveness, and would therefore need to be done with prior public notification. With proper consultation, and a clear statutory framework, a national strategy for surveillance should seek public consent for investments that have shown their value, deployed as a proportionate tactic to improve public safety.
9. Nationwide expansion of GPS tagging
Roll out modern GPS tagging to all courts to improve community supervision and aid crime investigations
Problem: At any time, most people sentenced by a court are in the community under some form of probation supervision or licence, and not in prison. The vast majority are not tagged or monitored, and supervision is infrequent and not always in-person. Sentencing or bail for tagged offenders on curfew is based on a single address using 30-year old technology that cannot be used to monitor an offender’s movements. Probationers commit crimes while in the community but without GPS tracking data, and the police cannot match crime map data to focus on persons of interest, or to alibi those who might otherwise be suspected. GPS tracking that dramatically increases the risk of detection may be much more effective at preventing reoffending than any downstream changes that toughen sanctions, but new schemes have been slow to trial, pilots have been small in scale, and current commissioning will provide nowhere near nationwide coverage – largely as a result of budgeting priorities and a costly and delayed procurement process.[viii]
Policy Response: There should be a national electronic monitoring strategy encompassing all players in the system, and a joint Ministry of Justice and Home Office fund should be created to fund the nationwide roll out of GPS tagging. With significantly expanded tagging available to courts, new semi-custodial sentences can be developed, and community sentences can have meaningful requirements that probation is able to verify, and more easily enforce. The focus for the first phase of GPS tagging should be those prolific offenders who are otherwise likely to reoffend but who have not been convicted of an offence that warrants immediate custody. Police forces should have full access to GPS data, regardless of the service provider, so they can routinely screen crimes against the GPS data from local offenders, and GPS technology should be an option for prison governors to apply to all prisoners being released from custody on licence.
10. Reboot the biometric identity agenda
Introduce next generation biometric identity cards for foreign nationals
Problem: Global migration is at historically high levels and nation states will continue to need new ways to keep economies open whilst maintaining public confidence in border control and protecting their migration channels from exploitation and citizenship pathways from abuse. The policy discussion around identity cards in 2002-06 invoked arguments about civil liberties, migration controls, and security that have not fundamentally changed. In fact, the consequences of Brexit and the Windrush scandal have actually made the arguments more salient. The authorities still need more reliable ways to prove identity and residency (and eligibility for state benefits, school access, and NHS provision). Migrants to the UK still need a convenient and dependable way to prove who they are, and their right to be in the UK, which foreign passports cannot provide. And new migrants from the EU and rest of the world will need to prove their identity so criminal record and other background checks can be undertaken as part of the Home Office’s new points-based migration process for working, studying or moving to the UK. [ix]
Policy Response: A single ID card would aid the police, immigration and local government officials to treat people fairly and quickly, reducing bureaucracy and associated costs. Available biometric technology is more robust than a decade ago, and is now being rolled out by major financial institutions and credit card providers. Such cards are common requirements in many other English-speaking democracies and help underpin a migration system that is otherwise vulnerable to fraud. The problem of a lack of digital criminal records that are shareable across national jurisdictions (even between EU countries) can be mitigated after Brexit if new migrants are required to declare their convictions and that data is stored on their digital ID. The Home Office should build on the Biometric Residence Permit to create a national card that can also be adopted voluntarily by citizens. All people in the UK without citizenship would be required to have a biometric ID card, and anyone with British citizenship could voluntarily apply for one if they wished. The Government should then consult on making access to public services online tied to the biometric card, as a possible way forward for the troubled VerifyID scheme for gov.uk, and consider whether new biometric cards should be automatically issued at no-cost when UK residents renew their driving licences and passports.
NOTES & REFERENCES
[i] National Cyber Constabulary. The most common types of offending online are cyber-enabled crimes like fraud, extortion and harassment, totalling millions of crimes annually. Cyber offences like denial of service attacks, data breaches, and commercial hacks are high impact, but lower volume. The Crime Survey for England and Wales now counts fraud in total volume crime, and the vast majority of fraud offences occur online, or have an online element. Those most likely to be victimised online are vulnerable in other ways, being either older, younger, or with mental disabilities or of low educational attainment. The national fraud agency (ActionFraud) is just an intelligence hub, and has not delivered for victims. Meanwhile national agencies (NCTPN, NCA, SFO) are geared to pursue specialist high harm crime types – counter-terrorism, serious and organised crime, corporate fraud – rather than being dedicated to the single non-physical domain. Several initiatives have bolstered the top-tier intelligence capability, with the National Cyber Security Centre now a partnership between intelligence agencies and the police. However, the volume fraud offending that happens online, and may have UK-based perpetrators, is too low-risk for their efforts, so clearance and detection rates are very low.
[ii] Fix sentencing. Longer prison sentences overall have driven the rise in the prison population, but courts are not imprisoning the prolific offenders that cost society the most. Since 2016, the proportion of offenders with over 100 previous convictions who receive immediate custody has fallen – fewer than half of these most prolific criminals go to prison. Currently, 37 per cent of those convicted of unlawful knife possession on the second occasion avoid the mandatory prison sentence. Scotland already has a legislative presumption against the use of prison sentences of less than 6 months, and may yet reduce this to 3 months. The previous Justice Secretary planned to curtail the use of short-term prison sentences.
[iii] Trial Semi-Custodial Sentences. The 2003 Criminal Justice Act contained provisions for a semi-custodial sentence (‘Custody Plus’) that was never enacted. The evidence from US projects like HOPE suggests that the sanction of custody can be modest, and still effective at changing behaviour if it is applied consistently for all occasions of breach – and the net effect can be a reduction in prison days, compared to traditional practice. To work effectively, a semi-custodial sentence would need a separate breach regime. A trial of such a sentence could utilise short (24 hour) use of police cells to prove the concept.
[iv] Alcohol-related Crime. Alcohol mortality rates in England are worsening, with figures showing a rise in recent years in alcohol specific deaths after the last peak in 2008. The sobriety pilot started in London in 2015 which had scaled to cover all of Greater London courts (with Mayor’s Office and Ministry of Justice joint funding) was terminated in 2018 and there is now only a single pilot outside of the capital. See Professor Keith Humphrey’s blog post for PMD: https://www.p4md.org/justice-and-security-blog/2019/8/1/the-new-government-has-a-huge-opportunity-to-reduce-alcohol-fuelled-crime. The Ministry of Justice is planning to trial sobriety tags for prisoners released on licence.
[v] Supercharge justice devolution. Elected PCCs, first introduced in 2012, are now a permanent feature of the policing landscape and provide local accountability for crime. Their remit extends beyond policing with new powers to commission victim services and to play a role in wider community safety. The practice of devolving custody budgets has been done before, with remand budgets for youth offenders. A series of Justice Reinvestment pilots in the early 2010s showed promise, but the sums were too small to drive real system change. Local Youth Offending Teams are funded separately, but without local oversight. The only justice devolution initiative still in place is Manchester. Under a devolved budget model, judges and magistrates would be protected from political interference by the same operational protocol that gives legal protection to chief police officers.
[vi] Restructure probation. The Government has already announced the end of the outsourced provider model for delivery of offender management with contracts for Community Rehabilitation Companies ending early, and the probation function being renationalised as part of the National Probation Service. Once this change is implemented, the devolution of budgets and oversight of probation to PCCs would be possible, with new local structures that were coterminous with police force boundaries. The Government could retain a small central function for the close management of a small number of the highest risk offenders
[vii] New crime-fighting technology. Any expansion of facial recognition technology by the police should be part of a comprehensive surveillance strategy that provides for proper checks and balances and the appropriate consultation and input from the various information and data commissioners. The Information Commissioner has urged new guidance to ensure proper regulation of the technology and test cases are now being heard that might curtail the police’s use of this technology unless a proper legal framework is established:
[viii] GPS tagging. The costs of GPS tagging fall solely on the Ministry of Justice, who have not been able to justify it without diverting resources from prison – so it has been viewed as an unaffordable add-on to current sentences that saves the department no money. But the police also benefit from having more offenders in their community under judicial restriction and monitored, making their offending easier to detect and prosecute, so the Home Office should share the costs of any nationwide roll-out, and local police forces should be integrated into the scheme.
[ix] Biometric identity agenda. Those EU nationals who immigrate if/when Brexit is enacted will have a different status to those who legally resided in the UK before, depending on how citizenship rights are determined by Parliament. This will create an additional need to have a government-issued identity record that can distinguish Europeans by their migration status.