The Justice Data Lab
Last week the Ministry of Justice announced the opening of its Justice Data Lab
The data lab is a service open to any organisation working with offenders which wants to evidence how effective their work is at reducing reoffending.
To use the service, organisations simply supply the data lab with details of the offenders who they have worked with and information about the services they have provided.
The justice data lab will then supply aggregate one-year proven re-offending rates for that group, and, most importantly, that of a matched control group of similar offenders.
The MoJ promises to provide the results in a “clear and easy to understand format, with explanations of the key metrics, and any caveats and limitations necessary for interpretation of the results.”
Those of us who have repeatedly called for an evidence-based approach to tackling crime and re-offending can’t but be delighted at this no cost service which is likely to be of particular benefit to voluntary sector organisations – including very small ones, the minimum cohort size is just 60.
Anyone who has engaged in the convoluted process of getting reconviction data from the Police National Computer will be delighted at what is promised to be a much simpler process.
One note of caution, the Justice Data Lab is being launched as a one year pilot initially which has led to some more cynical/suspicious/realistic/experienced (delete as appropriate) commentators suggesting that it is more to do with allaying voluntary sector concerns about the new PbR reoffending contracts than a permanent move towards transparency and best practice.
Organisations’ experience of using the Data Lab may be a useful indicator of the spirit in which it is being launched.
There are a number of criteria that organisations need to be aware of :
- The organisation must have worked with the offender between 2002 and 2010.
- Additionally, the individuals must have received a community sentence between 2002 and 2010 or been released from custody during the same time period.
Re-offending data for people sentenced/released in 2011 will be available some time within the first pilot year of operation.
In addition to first and last names, date of birth and gender, organisations are encouraged to provide Prison Numbers and Police National Computer Identifiers if possible.
The date that offenders started and completed any intervention provided by the organisation are critical so that the MoJ can look at data relating to the right sentence.
The MoJ is particularly interested in “detailed and precise information” about the work that the organisation did with offenders.
In particular, it wants to know how offenders were selected for the service/intervention provided – to make sure that organisations aren’t cherry picking the easiest to work with offenders in order to inflate their success rates.
There is a long list of groups of offenders for whom the MoJ may not be able to conduct research including:
- vulnerable youths or adults, including individuals with mental or learning difficulties.
- offenders who have mental health issues, including those being treated through the Personality Disorder Programme
- services or interventions that are targeted at persons with specific needs, including those relating to drugs or alcohol.
- requests based on services or interventions targeted at persons who have committed sexual offences, or domestic violence offences.
At first glance, these exclusions include a very high proportion of offenders.
The MoJ has said that it will approve requests for reoffending data on a case-by-case basis – so we will have to wait and see how flexible they are.
Overall, the move towards an evidence-based approach to determining the effectiveness of reducing reoffending interventions must be the right thing.
Many of us – politicians, commissioners and providers – still place too much stock in the power of an individual story of redemption rather than an objective analysis of outcomes.
One of my favourite movie characters is Barton Keys, the insurance claim investigator played by Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity.
Keys relies on a combination of experience and data in assessing the validity of insurance claims.
His experience makes itself known on a visceral level as a “little man in his stomach” which alerts him to a probably fraudulent claim, but he is also a great man for relying on the evidence:
I’m sure he’d have sought data from the Justice Data Lab.
If you’ve applied to the Justice Data Lab, please share your experiences below.