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Is it finally time for justice devolution?
while a new report from Crest Advisory describes devolution in four PCC areas.

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Local systems can prioritise prevention

Justice devolution (sometimes known as justice reinvestment) has been an objective of many commentators, academics and Think Tanks for some years (check out these posts, for example).

The rationale is clear: many of the levers for reducing crime lie outside the CJS at a local level – with health, education, employment and housing and require  engagement and better integration locally. A more localised system, where the criminal justice services are shaped around the local area’s needs rather than looking ‘upwards’ to Whitehall, is more likely to create a system which is preventative, joined up, evidence-based and transparent.

If local areas are given justice budgets to invest as they see fit and are allowed to reinvest the savings from a more co-ordinated approach, then many see the potential of justice devolution.

The argument has gathered pace since the creation of Police and Crime Commissioners who are ideally placed to lead and design joined up local systems.

The momentum for justice devolution picked up pace over the last fortnight  with the publication of two documents.

On  23  March 2018 Crest Advisory published their driving criminal justice devolution report which details work from four PCC areas: Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Northumbria and North Yorkshire.

Three days later, the Mayor of London’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), the MoJ and London Councils jointly published a memorandum of understanding (MoU) entitled Working towards Justice Devolution to London.

Crest Advisory Report

Crest advances two core arguments for devolution. 

Firstly, PCCs are accountable for police performance, but the crime in their communities – not to mention the social harms – cannot be solved by the police alone. To make real progress, PCCs have to make good on the ‘and Crime’ part of their job description, which means greater leverage over youth justice,  prosecution, courts, probation and prisons.
Secondly, the big fiscal reality for the next decade and beyond makes devolution the best answer to some of these intractable problems of rising complex crime demands and shrinking budgets. We cannot continue to rely on national reform programmes and extra spending to improve performance, and budget reductions since 2010 have brought us to the limit of what government
departments can deliver in the way of easy savings. If we want to make justice swifter, reduce the numbers of female offenders in prison, and finally tackle our high rates of reoffending, we need a radical shift in power to the local level. This is where the solutions and the innovation will be found to improve services, not in Whitehall.

The report consists of various examples of work in the four PCC areas including:

  • Commissioning through-the-gate services.
  • Improving the performance of and renegotiating the contracts for the local Community Rehabilitation Company.
  • Developing diversion/triage schemes for low level women offenders.
  • Developing alternatives to short custodial sentences.
  • Improving health interventions for offenders.
  • Developing commissioning responsiblity for electronic tagging.
Crest concludes that although PCCs still lack formal powers over much of the criminal justice system, 
 as visible democratically elected figures, they have considerable ‘soft’ power, which they are increasingly able to wield.


© Crest Advisory

London MoU

The Memorandum of Understanding is a first step in the devolution of justice services to the Capital. It creates a transparent framework for:

  • achieving co-design, co-investment and co-commissioning between MoJ, London Councils and MOPAC with respect to the management of offenders.
  • developing a plan to test devolution of agreed and specified justice responsibilities where the case is compelling.

It sets out the initial process for collaborative working which can happen immediately and identifies the areas for further development leading to implementation from March 2019. The MoU sets out seven initial shared priorities: 

  •  joining up services that support victims and witnesses of crime to create a newly integrated service, designed around the needs of victims and witnesses, rather than the requirement of different agencies;
  • pooling of criminal justice resources, enabling a shift in investment upstream from enforcement to prevention and early intervention; 
  • developing robust community sentence options, which have the confidence of judges and the public and thus contribute to reducing incarceration for lower risk offenders;
  • moving justice and resettlement closer to home where possible;
  • ensuring the CJS connects people to employment, skills and learning and improving the continuity of care from custody into the community;
  • providing holistic services to young people at risk of offending, young offenders, and young adults in transition from the youth justice system to the adult service, that address the root causes of offending behaviour, whilst ensuring justice continues to be served;
  • addressing the disproportionate representation of certain groups (such as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups and care leavers) within the criminal justice system.


These two reports combined with the devolution of criminal justice powers to the combined Manchester authorities in March 2016 and work by other Police and Crime Commissioners across England and Wales seem to indicate that the momentum towards justice devolution is starting to pick up speed. 

However, to have real impact, we will need willingness by a Justice Secretary to let go of  central powers. For this to happen, we probably need to keep the same person in post for a period of three years at least. 

David Gauke seems to have his hands full at the moment with the critically poor performance of both prisons and probation and a radical overhaul of parole. It will be interesting to see whether he has the inclination, time and political will to set devolution as a realistic policy direction.

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