Thursday, 22 August 2013

Governing Through Crime (Commissioners)

Power Down, Policy Exchange’s Report on Police and Crime Commissioners has the sub title “A plan for a cheaper, more effective justice system” but it might as well   have been “We Expand or We Die”.  There are no detailed costings to stand up the cost argument and no real evidence to support the effectiveness claim. Rather it it places PCC’s at the head of a localism crusade to take control of the Whitehall dominated citadels that rule the criminal justice world.  

While  not  going as far as last year’s Reform report which argued that PCC’s should take over the budgets and responsibility for pretty much all of the criminal justice agencies, in one sense it goes further suggesting that in ten years PCC’s might morph into public safety commissioners or even local mayors.  Sooner than that , the report envisages PCC’s as  ministers for the local  criminal justice system with “the political power to set the agenda, hold agencies within his/her purview to account for performance and enact reforms to ensure a more efficient and effective system at the local level.”

There’s much to be said in the arguments for improved coordination, co-terminosity between agencies and pooled budgets. As the Howard League Commission on prisons said in 2010 “the current criminal justice system not only wastes money but it is overly centralised and driven by misleading and often meaningless targets.” It argued that the National Offender Management Service should be broken up and “replaced by an agenda rooted in localism and in engaging with communities to seek meaningful outcomes”.

On the face of it such an agenda could be driven by the PCC’s as Policy Exchange propose. But there are other ways that this could be done. Outside London the democratic mandate, and breadth of competence is simply too thin to carry forward such a wide ranging agenda. Governing through crime is not the best way forward.

An alternative model could build on local authorities, developing perhaps a hybrid body to commission services to prevent crime, implement sanctions and rehabilitate offenders. This is a direction of travel proposed by the Local Government Information Unit in their 2009 report Primary Justice. Such a model would build in incentives to reduce costly and unproductive imprisonment and invest instead in the kind of targeted measures which reduce crime and demand on the criminal justice system.

Such an approach would show that that the answers to crime and public safety lie not with the police but with the social agencies. It is a model that should prove more attractive to the Labour party.

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