Last week (10 March 2022) the MoJ published its first report from its data-linking programme Data First, funded by ADR UK (Administrative Data Research UK) to harness the potential of the wealth of data generated when people interact with justice services. The findings in this report are based on analysis of magistrates’ and Crown Court defendants; the first two datasets shared under Data First.
These datasets have enabled, for the first time, the extent and nature of repeat users to be explored at scale, including the type of offences repeat users are most likely to enter the criminal courts for. The report also includes the proportion of defendants who reside in the most deprived areas of England and Wales using the 2019 Index of Multiple Deprivation.
The report, written by Tom Jackson, Caris Greyson, Dr Ian Rickard and Professor Andromachi Tseloni, have the opportunity to explore these issues from a huge dataset: the magistrates’ courts dataset includes 13,357,982 records from January 2011 to December 2020 and the Crown Court dataset comprises 1,000,827 records over the slightly shorter period from January 2013 to December 2020.
The key findings from this report are:
- Upon a defendant’s first known case in 2011, over half (56%) of defendants had returned to the magistrates’ courts by December 2019. 17% returned only once within this period and 18% of defendants returned six or more times.
- The return rate to the magistrates’ courts varied by the defendant’s first offence. The highest rate of return was for defendants initially proceeded against for a theft offence in 2011 (82% returned to the court by December 2019). The lowest rate of return across all offence groups was for sexual offences (43%). This could be due to longer custodial sentences imposed for sexual offences, reducing the opportunity to reappear again in front of the courts during the timeframe of this analysis.
- Regardless of a defendant’s first offence group, many defendants later returned to the magistrates’ courts for some form of summary offence.
- Defendants were most likely to return for the same offence group as their initial 2011 case, suggesting that the defendant could be specialising in their offence group.
- The percentage of defendants who were sent to the Crown Court increased with the number of times they returned to the magistrates’ courts following their initial case. This might indicate an escalation in returning defendants’ offending behaviour and subsequent sentences.
- In 2019, 43% of defendants dealt with in the Crown Court resided in the 20% most deprived neighbourhoods in England.
- A similar finding was found for Wales. In 2019, 41% of defendants resided in the 20% most deprived Welsh neighbourhoods.
- Across all offence groups, defendants dealt with for a sexual offence in the Crown Court in 2019 were least likely to reside in the most deprived small areas in England (36%). Robbery (50%) and theft offences (50%) had the highest percentage of defendants who resided in the most deprived areas. Similar patterns were found in Wales.
Conclusions & implications
The findings present important implications for policy and practice. They identify that overall, more than half of defendants returned to the courts within the data period, but this was highest for specific offence groups, including theft, robbery and drug offences. Defendants returned disproportionately to the courts for the same offence, and those who returned to the court multiple times were more likely to be directed to the higher Crown Court. These findings suggest both a specialisation and escalation in offending behaviour and point towards the importance of targeting interventions to prevent criminal careers.
Deprivation linked to theft and robbery
Locality-based analysis on Crown Court defendants provide important insights on the backgrounds of justice system users, showing an over-representation of defendants residing in the most deprived areas in England and Wales compared to the general population.
Further analysis show links between neighbourhood deprivation and crime type-specific offending and offender characteristics. The over-representation of defendants dealt with for acquisitive offences such as theft and robbery residing in the most deprived areas of England and Wales suggests that these offences are likely driven by financial need.
Policy and practice services and interventions for this type of offender rehabilitation are therefore likely to be most effective when targeted by area. They could include initiatives to address and improve residents’ health, education and employment needs and outcomes.
In contrast, the relative under-representation of defendants residing in the most deprived areas for sexual and fraud offences suggest that these may be more likely to be individually motivated, though the researchers caution that this warrants further investigation.
Thanks to Pete Linforth for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Pixabay.