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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

5 things I learnt about Justice Policy

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Centre for Crime and Justice Studies invaluable annual round-up of key UK justice policy developments.

Trends in Justice

Earlier this week (16 April 2019), the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies published its invaluable annual review into key justice policy developments across the UK. Volume 8 covers from the General Election of 8 June 2017 to the parliamentary recess of summer 2018 (24 July).

The CCJS review always makes for a fascinating read. Below are 5 key facts that I have plucked from this year’s document:

1: There has been an increase in violent crime

In England and Wales, recorded crime figures began to show rises, prompting a renewed focus on serious violence. In April 2018, (then Home Secretary) Amber Rudd launched the Serious Violence Strategy, combining a series of measures: a National Coordinating Centre to combat ‘county lines’ drug dealing; funding for projects, including the Early Intervention Youth Fund; and a media campaign about the risks of knife carrying.

2: Scotland leads the way on curbing imprisonment

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, set out the Scottish National Party’s plans for government in a speech at Holyrood on 5 September 2017. Extending the presumption against some custodial sentences was a flagship reform of its justice agenda. Current provisions covered a presumption against prison sentences of up to three months in length. Following several years of consultation, it was now proposed to extend this to a presumption against prison sentences of up to 12 months. Extending the use of electronic monitoring and rolling out a new model of community justice were other key elements set out in the plans. Justice Secretary David Gauke has announced that England and Wales intends to follow suit, and restrict the use of prison sentences of six months or less, although there is no information yet about the mechanism to do so.

3: Spending and staffing

One of my favourite components of the CCJS annual review is their data dashboards. The wheel below offers an at-a-glance view of the key criminal justice data in England and Wales at three points in time: the 2013/14, 2016/17 and 2017/18  financial years. This means key criminal justice changes can be seen over a short and longer time period. The chart is divided into four domains:

  1. Spending: how much was spent across the different agencies and fields of operation (e.g. police, legal aid, prosecution).
  2. Staffing: how many people worked in the different agencies and fields of operation.
  3. Criminalising: the criminal justice caseload, from the point of an offence being recorded to the point of conviction.
  4. Punishing: the main outcomes from convictions: fines, community supervision and imprisonment.
The report also contains parallel data dashboards for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

4: Legal aid cuts continue

Criminal legal aid in England and Wales had been shrinking for some years (see the graphic below). The Justice Committee found ‘compelling evidence’ that the existing legal aid fee structure was undermining the financial sustainability of criminal defence legal work, placing at risk the right to legal representation. The Committee proposed that the government should follow the example of Scotland, and launch a wide-ranging independent review of criminal legal aid, ‘no later than March 2019’, with the purpose of developing a legal aid scheme ‘that is sustainable and user-focussed’.

5: Prison crisis is still worsening

As regular readers will know, there has been little in any progress in halting the decline in our prisons, in terms of violence and self-harm, living conditions or the prevalence of drugs. The CCJS report includes one key infographic which shows how hard reform is proving to be — prisons are increasingly failing even to remedy the significant failings highlighted by inspection reports:

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