Mike Trace, Chief Executive of RAPt, and previously Deputy Drug Czar, is the latest to set out his top three priorities for the new Justice Secretary in a blog series which runs through the election campaign. You can follow @RAPtcharity on Twitter.
1. Really care about what works
We have had decades of an explicit departmental objective of reducing reoffending, and have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on a dizzying array of interventions that aim to achieve that objective. But still the evidence base on what interventions actually reduce crime is worryingly sketchy, and the evidence that is available does not seem to have much impact on decisions of where to spend taxpayers money – whether it be through NOMS, NHS England, or the new CRC’s.
The Justice Data Lab is a long overdue attempt to focus on real outcomes, but it needs to be expanded and strengthened under a new administration, and its findings made a compulsory criteria in commissioning decisions.
2. Re-energise substance misuse treatment for offenders
I’m biased, but it seems clear to me that drug and alcohol treatment for offenders delivers greater reductions in reoffending than any other intervention (if anyone reading this wants to dispute that conclusion from the available evidence, I would be interested in discussing it). But truths we learnt 20 years ago – that a high proportion of property and violent crime is driven by drug or alcohol dependence, that a high proportion of the prison and probation caseload are drug or alcohol dependent, and that well designed interventions can engage large numbers of these people, and achieve high rates of recovery – seem to be being forgotten.
The new administration needs to ensure every prison has an effective recovery programme in place, and that every CRC is able to negotiate easy access to effective recovery programmes for the offenders in their area.
This is a short and slightly disappointing report which seems intended merely to place a marker for the next government. Little substantive work has taken place since the Justice Committee’s initial enquiry into women offenders in March 2013. As a consequence, the report is reduced to expressing the hope
3. Get smart on the use of diminishing resources
How does the new Justice Secretary direct extra resources at interventions that achieve the departmental objective of reducing reoffending, while managing what is likely to be a further 20-30% cut to the departmental budget? A brave leader would use this opportunity to end the madness of the highest prison population in Europe – costing taxpayers over £3 billion per year, a high proportion of which is us paying bed and board for thousands of offenders who are no direct risk to anyone.
This brave Justice Secretary will take a plan to the Treasury that offers to save £1 billion by reducing the prison population to below 60,000 in this parliament, and reinvest half of that into effective community based supervision and interventions. Simples.
The purpose of this blog series is to stimulate a debate about where our criminal justice system should be heading.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the justice priorities should be.