Cutting crime and delivering justice – the role of data and digital

23 March 2018

The criminal justice system is complex. It has no single ‘owner’ and has been subject to regular change. Organisations need a degree of independence to ensure that the system is just. Yet each part depends on the others to allow it to function. To work efficiently, each part of the system must complete its work on time and get it right first time.

The problem is that, as overall levels of crime are falling, the number of more complex cases (for example, sex offences, complex fraud and terrorism) has increased. The government is also under fire for cutting staff, potentially compromising their ability to fight terrorism or address rising levels of violence in prisons and self-harm in custody. There are concerns about court cases not going ahead as planned, as evidence is not available or shared. The number of offenders who find themselves repeatedly back behind bars is also on the rise as rehabilitation and training have suffered.

The government has responded by increasing staff numbers (often at the expense of other administrative budgets). They are also tackling old fashioned working practices, including some parts of the system that are siloed and paper-based.  But one of the central conclusions reached in Reform’s report, Crime and Information: Data Sharing to Deliver Criminal Justice, is that government needs to think far more radically about the future delivery of justice services.

No single factor will transform the criminal justice system. But there is evidence that enhanced sharing and analysis of data can make a difference.  And there are striking examples of increasingly sophisticated use of data to intelligently automate tasks, surface insights and augment decision making.

For example, in County Durham the police are automatically capturing ever increasing volumes of evidence from online sources and then making this available to the Crown Prosecution Service and later the courts through a standardised digital report. And data analytics is being used to predict the likelihood of reoffending and inform the decision to keep a suspect in custody.

In his Spring Statement, the Chancellor made clear that deficit reduction remains’ the Government’s number one priority. As austerity still provides the backdrop for government, there is a need for more imaginative and sustainable approaches. High-quality justice services require both cost reductions and reform through targeted investment in data-enabled projects that remove duplication and optimise processes.

This reform will address growing expectations and demands, ensure services can support those most in need (including victims and witnesses) and help increase the public acceptability of continuing public spending restraint – less money does not always have to mean worse services.

Philip Craig, Government Sector Strategy Director, Sopra Steria

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