If I were Justice Secretary
Throughout the election campaign and for a couple of weeks after polling day, I ran a guest blog series where 18 criminal justice agencies and commentators set out the three priorities they would focus on if they were the new Justice Secretary.
Now that we know the new Justice Secretary is Michael Gove , I thought he might appreciate a short analysis of these priorities as he gets his feet under the table at 102 Petty France.
Guest bloggers came from a wide range of viewpoints including several organisations with a particular criminal justice focus including prison reform, employment for women offenders, restorative justice etc. This, thankfully, made for very different priorities with limited repetition. Nevertheless, four key themes emerged from this spectrum of views.
1 Reduce the prison population
Several contributors made the point that our prison population was proportionately much higher than many other countries and that imprisoning so many people for relatively minor offences was both ineffective and hugely inexpensive at a time when public expenditure was being substantially cut back .
There was an acknowledgement that reducing the prison population was a political challenge and that the new Justice Secretary would need to get the general public onside. Different approaches were suggested:
2 An evidence-based approach to criminal justice
There was a strong consensus amongst contributors that we needed to develop a long-term, strategic approach to reforming the criminal justice system which was based on the evidence of what works, rather than political opportunism. This issue was championed by:
- Mike Trace of RAPt in his plea for spreading best practice to tackle drug- and alcohol-related offending
- No Offence! in their argument for an integrated criminal justice system.
- Andrew Neilson of The Howard League who suggested that justice needs its equivalent of NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
3 Women Offenders
A number of contributors talked about their frustration that, despite a cross-party consensus about the need to reform our approach to women’s offending following the Corston report, little real progress has been made.
Commentators felt that only with a strong lead from the new Justice Secretary would there be real change. The Prison Reform Trust dedicated its contribution to a clear strategy for tackling this issue including establishing a women’s justice board.
4 Transforming Rehabilitation
Many contributors put the overhaul of the new probation system high on their list of priorities. All accepted that it was not practical to reverse Transforming Rehabilitation but suggested a number of key amendments including:
- Creating a new public sector body to hold TR providers to account – Mike Maiden
- Ensuring that the new private providers are implementing safe operational models that protect the public, staff and service users – NAPO
- Developing an integrated and professional probation service – Probation Institute
Justice Reinvestment as a way of creating an integrated justice system which was also economically efficient was also mentioned by several people (including the post from Vicki Helyar-Cardwell of the Revolving Doors Agency). Reversal of the Legal Aid changes was also seen as a high priority as was Restorative Justice (unsurprisingly championed by Jon Collins of the Restorative Justice Council).
Other contributors highlighted long neglected issues such as reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (Chris Stacey of Unlock), the rights of offenders’ families (Ellie Cumbo) and the needs of elderly prisoners (Langley House Trust).
Finally, I really hope that Mr Gove takes up the suggestion of Jocelyn Hillman, Chief Exec of Working Change, and leads Transforming Rehabilitation by example, hiring an ex-offender as her/his diary secretary.
If you’d like to contribute your own priorities for the new Justice Secretary, please use the comments section below or follow the conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #nextGrayling