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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

“Cracking down” on crime

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A summary of the blizzard of recent announcements on a major change in criminal justice policy.

We are clearly entering a new era in criminal justice policy. Having adjusted to outgoing Justice Secretary David Gauke’s #smartjustice approach with an emphasis on an evidence-based approach and a commitment to reducing the number of short prison sentences, the Boris Johnson administration has announced a plethora of new initiatives over the last few days.

Details are limited, but I thought it might be useful to summarise the principal new announcements.

20,000 new police officers

Perhaps the best known of the Prime Minister’s new pledges was the commitment to recruit 20,000 new police officers, announced on his first day in office. The aim is recruit an extra 20,000 officers by 2022 at an announced cost of £1.1 billion to restore numbers to where they were in 2010.

Expanding stop and search

On Sunday (11 August) the Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that she had “empowered” more than 8,000 police officers to authorise enhanced stop and search powers.

The Home Office press release said it was making it simpler for all forces in England and Wales to use Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which empowers officers to stop and search anyone in a designated area without needing reasonable grounds for suspicion if serious violence is anticipated.

The nationwide pilot has been extended from a smaller pilot within the seven forces worst affected by knife crime, following an urgent review commissioned by the Prime Minister.

10,000 extra prison places

On the same day, the Prime Minister announced that up to £2.5 billion will be spent on creating modern, efficient prisons, creating an additional 10,000 prison places. 

The first new prison will be built at HMP Full Sutton, alongside the already well-performing maximum-security jail in operation at the site. This, along with further building works, will be subject to government working through the best-value-for-money options.

The 10,000 places will be in addition to the new prisons that have already been announced, at Wellingborough and Glen Parva, which will provide 3,360 places by 2023. The new funding will also be used to bring previously decommissioned prison places back into use through extensive refurbishment and maintenance work.

Sentencing review

Yesterday (Monday 12 August), the MoJ announced that it will conduct an urgent review ordered by the Prime Minister, to ensure the public are properly protected from the most dangerous criminals.

The work, which begins immediately, will focus on whether violent and sexual offenders are serving sentences that truly reflect the severity of their crimes.

It will consider whether changes in legislation are needed to lock criminals up for longer – by not letting them out automatically part-way through a sentence. It will also look at how to break the cycle of repeat offending.

The government review team will report back directly to the Prime Minister with recommendations this autumn.

Specifically, the review will look at:

  • Sentencing for the most serious violent and sexual offenders;
  • The rules governing when and how these offenders are released; and
  • Sentencing of the most prolific offenders.

£85 million for the CPS

Yesterday was also the day when the government announced that the Crown Prosecution Service would receive an extra £85 million over the next two years “to help deal with a rise in violent crime” and also to increase CPS capacity which will be tested further by the recruitment of the additional 20,000 police officers.

£100 million crackdown on crime in prison

This morning (13 August) the MoJ announced an extra £100m to target crime in prison. Here’s the detail from the press release:

The investment will target all types of crime in prison; from drug smugglers fuelling a rise in violence and self-harm, to gang kingpins continuing to run their operations from jail, to offenders seeking to contact their victims in the outside world.
Tough airport-style security, including X-ray scanners and metal detectors, will be put into prisons across the estate to clamp down on the drugs, weapons and mobile phones that increase the risk to our officers and hinder rehabilitation.  
Cutting-edge technology to detect and block mobile phones will be brought in to better identify and stop those who seek to organise drug supply or harass victims from the prison wings.
The new funding will bolster efforts to tackle corruption, improving intelligence analysis and strengthening the Counter Corruption Unit that roots out the small minority of dishonest staff and the criminals who seek to manipulate them.

Summary

I have no idea how many more announcements might be made in the coming days. The common theme is that almost all the official press releases feature the phrase “crackdown on crime”.

Commentators have pointed out that this blizzard of announcements, replicated in other policy areas, suggest that Mr Johnson is gearing up for an election campaign. However, the difference between these announcements and election pledges is that they all promise immediate action.

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