Monday, 26 March 2018

Is Justice Reinvestment Finally Coming to Town?

For those of us who have spent years  promoting the policy of Justice Reinvestment (JR), today’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Ministry of Justice, London Councils and the Mayor is an important moment. It remains to be seen of course whether it leads, as David Gauke told Parliament, to fundamental change in responsibilities for criminal justice and offender management in London. But it certainly promises greater local influence in the capital’s victim and witness services, probation system, electronic monitoring arrangements and justice measures for young adults and women.  It goes some way towards meeting one of the three key elements of JR- that is the “devolution of responsibility for criminal justice to a more local level, where a range of relevant organisations can devise the most appropriate approaches to reducing crime, incorporating the views of people most affected by it”.

But what about the other two prerequisites for JR? These are first, an overarching and explicit policy goal of reducing the numbers of people being prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned; and second a method of financing criminal justice institutions and processes which incentivises the transfer of resources away from prison places, and into community based measures for rehabilitating offenders and preventing crime.  The MoU takes us less far and more tentatively in these directions.

It’s true that it commits to exploring the scope for greater use of police diversion and credible alternatives to custody for women; and to reducing the numbers of young Londoners from being incarcerated in unsafe or distant institutions. But alongside these lukewarm diversionary ambitions sit proposals for a community prison for women and a secure school for children. The MOU talks about reviewing “the use of custody (both police and secure estate) for young people to develop recommendations to support more effective custodial solutions”. I thought this must be a typo (with a missing non-), but am not so sure.

More positively perhaps, the parties commit to working to explore the feasibility and practicality of justice reinvestment “with the aim of reducing the number of low risk offenders sentenced to custody and enabling the sharing of savings to support better community interventions. This will include a particular focus on female offenders and 18-25 year old offenders”.

The document’s glossary defines JR as “a model where investment is given to a local area in response to a reduction in demand on the offender management / criminal justice system”.  It acknowledges the possibility of upfront funding with the ability to claw back payments if demand is not reduced.  The MoU incorrectly states that this has not been tested. The Youth Justice Reinvestment Custody Pathfinder which ran from 2011-2013 did just that. While two of the four pilot sites activated a break clause after a year, the two that stayed the course exceeded their targets for reducing the custodial places required for their young people.  It worked.  

How far this all goes and when will depend on the energy and vision of the London Justice Devolution Board which will drive the agenda forward. The timetable for action is a bit opaque. The first task of the Board “will be to agree a detailed implementation plan to operationalise all of the commitments in this MoU no later than March 2019. The implementation plan will be developed prior to the first London Justice Devolution Board”. 

Back in 2015 I recommended that a JR initiative on women “combining up front money and reward payments should be started”. Rather than yet more time exploring, considering and scoping, the partners should crack on with this at the very least. 

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