Thursday, 3 December 2015

Why We Need a Rehabilitation Devolution

Among the wealth of information provided by the latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s excellent Bromley briefing, two findings stand out. First is the catalogue of troubles experienced by adults in prison compared with the general population. Prisoners are 12 times more likely to have been taken into care and regularly played truant as a child; almost two thirds have used Class A drugs compared to 13% of the general population while prisoners are over three times more likely to have no qualifications, never to have worked, or be homeless prior to imprisonment.16% show symptoms of psychosis compared to just 4% of adults outside.

A second notable fact is that the reduction in the use of custody for juveniles over the last five years has saved the Youth Justice Board more than £300 million. Taken together, these findings suggest a strong case for developing a strategy to shift resources away from imprisonment towards the kind of community based measures which can prevent people becoming involved in crime and meet their many health and social care needs if they do so.

Addressing many of those problems-mental health, education, addiction, and homelessness- are almost always matters for local agencies and organisations whether in the public, voluntary or private sector.  In a report out today published by Transform Justice, I show how giving local authorities and communities greater financial and organisational responsibility for preventing and treating crime in their area could both help to reduce it and to minimise the use of expensive and often ineffective national resources such as courts and prisons.

Drawing both on lessons from the USA and domestic pilot projects, Rehabilitation Devolution argues that if local agencies are made responsible for paying the costs of incarceration, they are more likely to take steps to reduce its use. Local authorities have shown they can use funds to lower the use of custody and making them pay for the costs of juveniles held on remand has contributed to a fall in numbers.  American states like Pennsylvania have established a formula that requires a percentage of cost savings achieved through reductions in prison numbers to be reinvested in public safety improvements while in North Carolina so called Justice Reinvestment initiatives have helped reduce prison numbers by 8%.
What does this suggest for England and Wales? The report proposes transferring responsibility for meeting the entire costs of custody for under 18's to local authorities and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC’s), work to identify the best ways of transferring that responsibility to a more local level for young adult and women offenders, and inviting PCC's to chair new Justice and Safety Partnerships( JSP).  Involving judges, probation, prison, local government and health, the JSP’s would introduce greater regional voice in the system and provide a body to which criminal justice budgets might be devolved over time. The report also argues that as a localisation agenda moves forward local commissioners would not simply buy what is currently provided but develop the kind of  responses better able to serve their community’s needs. So rather than paying for  Feltham YOI, local authorities might be able to commission a less damaging environment for their troublesome teenage boys .

While this may look like bureaucratic and possibly unwelcome organisational reform, its purpose is to incentivise the bodies best able to deal with crime and offending to do so creatively and cost effectively. George Osborne’s spending review may have included an eye catching plan to close Holloway but modernising the prison estate apart, the Spending Review looks much like business as usual. New for old prisons may well be necessary but it is not sufficient to address our problems of penal excess.

Reducing sentence lengths is the most direct but politically riskiest strategy for reducing prison numbers - although the risks might be mitigated by intensifying regimes so a prison sentence of a certain length in the future counts for more than it does now.

 Alongside this, aligning the systems for sanctioning offenders with the measures which can prevent crime and reduce offending could help bring down the numbers in court and custody.  By doing so we can end up not with a near 90,000 prison population forecast last week but something approaching the norm for Western Europe which might see it closer to 50,000.                 


  1. Thanks Rob Allen and especially for Transform Justice - which so far I have not found how to link to Twitter due to my technical limitations

  2. Rob - the success of passing responsibility for secure remands to LA's also relied on legislative change making it harder to impose a secure remand. Personally I would do away with sentences of less than 12 months for youths - population reduced by 75% at a stroke and the opportunity for those that are in custody to have some effective work done with them in smaller stable units. Mick Coleman

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