Localising justice can reduce crime and imprisonment
An important new report from one of our leading criminal justice commentators Rob Allen (@robroballen) lays down a real challenge to Michael Gove in his prison reform plans and a carefully considered way forward.
Written for Transform Justice, “Rehabilitation Devolution – how localising justice can reduce crime and imprisonment” argues that giving local authorities and communities greater financial and organisational responsibility for preventing and treating crime in their area could both help to reduce it and to minimise the use of expensive and often ineffective national resources such as courts and prisons.
Drawing both on lessons from the USA and domestic pilot projects,Rehabilitation Devolution argues that if local agencies are made responsible for paying the costs of incarceration, they are more likely to take steps to reduce its use. Local authorities have shown they can use funds to lower the use of custody and making them pay for the costs of juveniles held on remand has contributed to a fall in numbers. A payment by results initiative was very effective in some parts of the UK in getting local authorities to keep young people out of the damaging custodial environment which often confirms and entrenches delinquency.
American states like Pennsylvania have established a formula that requires a percentage of cost savings achieved through reductions in prison numbers to be reinvested in public safety improvements while in North Carolina so called Justice Reinvestment initiatives have helped reduce prison numbers by 8%.
Leadership from Police and Crime Commissioners the key
The report proposes transferring responsibility for meeting the entire costs of custody for under 18’s to local authorities and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC’s), work to identify the best ways of transferring that responsibility to a more local level for young adult and women offenders, and inviting PCC’s to chair new Justice and Safety Partnerships( JSP).
Involving judges, probation, prison, local government and health, the JSP’s would introduce greater regional voice in the system and provide a body to which criminal justice budgets might be devolved over time. The report also argues that as a localisation agenda moves forward local commissioners would not simply buy what is currently provided but develop the kind of responses better able to serve their community’s needs. So rather than paying for Feltham YOI, local authorities might be able to commission a less damaging environment for their troublesome teenage boys .
Rob Allen argues that while this may look like bureaucratic and possibly unwelcome organisational reform, its purpose is to incentivise the bodies best able to deal with crime and offending to do so creatively and cost effectively.
I am strongly in favour of this plan which I think is surprisingly practicable since it fits in well with the government’s approach to devolving health and criminal justice expenditure locally (both being trialled in Greater Manchester).
I have always thought that a justice reinvestment approach to payment by results commissioning is potentially a very effective mechanism. PbR has become a dirty word because it has become associated with privatisation and cuts in public expenditure.
Used properly, its main purpose is to improve outcomes. My view is that the treasury should devolve young offender budgets to local authorities or PCCs and set them a 10% savings target over three years – community sentences, implemented properly, are more effective and much cheaper than imprisonment.
If local bodies meet the 10% savings target, they should be allowed to keep half to reinvest in further improving local services and the other half would go back to the treasury for deficit reduction.
This approach means that everyone involved in delivering local services is incentivised and motivated to deliver better services instead of cheaper ones.