Close to home
A new (6 July 2023) report from Transform Justice “Close to Home” makes the case for localising criminal justice services in England & Wales. The report argues that the current centralised system is not able to tackle our current problems: lengthy court backlogs, under-staffed prison and probation services and an increasing number of crimes not investigated or prosecuted.
The report, written by Fionnuala Ratcliffe, argues that there is a lack of local ownership for crime prevention and reducing reoffending:
“Local agencies go cap in hand to central government for funding, rather than fostering and supporting innovative solutions locally.”
It also points out that many of the levers to prevent crime and reoffending – including health, employment, education and housing – lie outside the criminal justice system. Local actors are not financially incentivised to tackle these drivers and invest to solve problems upstream. Increasingly, public services work in silos rather than together toward common goals.
The report is not a fully-worked up proposal for a more localised justice system, so much as a conversation starter. Nevertheless, the charity outlines what it sees as the main components of a new system:
- Delegation of justice budgets for prison places, magistrates’ courts’ administration, policing, prosecution and probation to police and crime commissioners or mayors
- Pooling of criminal justice resources so that local services work together towards a shared aim and share any savings made
- Financially incentivising local services to shift investment upstream from enforcement to prevention, by allowing them to benefit from the savings from investment
- Local management of probation and of the administration of magistrates’ courts but the CPS, Prisons and Crown Courts to continue to be managed nationally
- Prosecutorial and judicial independence maintained through continued use of nationally agreed prosecution and sentencing guidelines.
- Standards monitored through inspectorate, effective community scrutiny, and a newly created interdepartmental board.
Transform Justice compares the success of localised youth justice services (much reduced numbers of children in the system and highly rated services) with the ongoing poor performance of the (chronically under-staffed) probation service.
The report also argues that a more localised system would allow communities to take back control of crime priorities and approaches and provide an opportunity to reverse the (rapidly) diminishing trust in so many parts of the criminal justice system, particularly the police and courts.
Below I reproduce an infographic from the report which seeks to put a little more flesh on the bones of a localised model: