Victims’ services have a long way to go

Very patchy provision

The first report on the quality of services provided to victims by all agencies within the criminal justice system was published last week (9 December 2015) as a Criminal Justice Joint Inspection entitled:

Meeting the needs of victims in the criminal justice system – A consolidated report by the criminal justice inspectorates

The reported undertaken by the four criminal justice inspectorates (of Constabulary, Prisons, Probation and the CPS) is based on a range of individual and joint inspections undertaken between April 2014 and July 2015.

Overall findings

The inspectors came to three overall conclusions:

  1. There were excellent individual examples of good practice across criminal justice sectors, and geographically across England and Wales, with dedicated staff putting the needs of victims first, and creative programmes and initiatives to ensure they get the best possible support;
  2. Particular strengths were evident in terms of specialist teams – who were generally highly motivated and well trained – and in the widespread use of restorative programmes; but
  3. There were unacceptable inconsistencies in the service provided to victims – depending on the type of offence, where they lived or the degree to which local policies support and reinforce service provision.

Good practice

Clearly, there have been some notable improvements in victims’ services in many areas. There has also been progress around a number of key issues:

  • There has been a general improvement in the extent to which police forces engage with partner agencies to assess levels of risk, particularly to vulnerable individuals and groups.
  • Police initial contact with children and immediate safeguarding issues were often good.
  • Victims’ right to review CPS decisions was appropriately notified in over three-quarters of cases sampled.
  • Inspectors found significant improvements in restorative justice programmes and victim awareness:
    • There were concerted efforts to achieve community resolutions and use victim-led mediation.
    • Restorative working was well-embedded into many YOT teams with good engagement with victims, including local businesses.
    • Most YOT teams worked proactively to identify victims and address risk of harm.
    • There was a wide range of victim awareness and restorative programmes in many prisons and YOIs – but they are absent in some establishments.
    • Although some schemes lacked processes to ensure victims’ wishes were always reflected in restorative approaches and victim-focused interventions.

Areas for improvement

Despite these positive findings, the list of substantial failings is a long one:

  • Far too many reported crimes are either not recorded, or are subsequently ‘no crimed’.
  • In around one-third of all forces, call-handlers were failing consistently to identify repeat and vulnerable victims, meaning that individuals who may be in most need of action or protection may not be getting it.
  • The overall response to victims of domestic abuse is not good enough – first responders often lack empathy and in too many cases the quality of initial investigation is unacceptably weak.
  • People with mental health problems and children were taken into custody by the police because they were unable to secure the help they needed from health or social care services. On occasions, vulnerable people were taken into custody as a mechanism for getting them the support they needed.
  • Some police officers did not regard all children as vulnerable. They saw the offence first, and the fact that it involved a child as secondary.
  • Almost half of all forces need to improve their crime investigations; opportunities to secure successful outcomes for the victim are being missed.
  • Where crime scenes are not attended, the quality of investigation varies considerably and may be no more than a recording of the event.
  • Too often, victim contact is viewed by officers as just another bureaucratic requirement.
  • Standards of timeliness and accuracy in pre-trial notifications to victims’ families in fatal road incidents were not met in almost three-quarters of cases.
  • Some CPS areas have wrongly short-circuited required processes for informing families of prosecution decisions.
  • Pre-sentence reports have improved in the identification of hate crime and disability but few included a sentence plan objective to address the hate crime element of the offending.

Conclusion

Although findings of such patchy provision are always disappointing, the fact that victims’ services have improved so noticeably in some areas holds out hope that this best practice can be spread throughout the CJS and across all areas of England and Wales.

The fact that the joint inspectors are committed to annual joint inspections on victims’ services should ensure that poor performing areas are held to account.

 

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