New frontiers of criminal justice: DCC Dave Thompson

13 March 2015

If austerity has taught us anything it is to look harder at the behemoths of our state.

The justice system seeks to offer a fair and transparent way of convicting and punishing the guilty and helping them stop offending whilst protecting the innocent.

These simple aims have seen simple institutions develop into a plethora of organisations and processes that are now almost incomprehensible to the participants. The proliferation of so many players with different outcomes, operating models and financing continues to pose a challenge to understanding the effectiveness and the true state of the system.

It is at its heart a reactive cycle driven by the desire to “detect and react” to crimes that happen and with a limited application of evidence in the treatment it applies to achieve its outcomes as opposed to serve its process. There needs to be a stronger step forward in anticipation and prevention by the system; creating a more “predict and prevent” ethos. In the West Midlands six per cent of the force’s area accounts for around 22 per cent of all crime, and a much higher level of serious crime. Map offending and most unsustainable communities stand tall. Look at our troubled families, our persistent offenders and our early offenders and it is very clear who and where the current and future client groups are drawn from yet the system economics provide no incentives or clarity of mission for intervention at the point where the threat of the system may have its highest impact on a life of crime.

There is developing academic evidence to show that restorative justice interventions offer the most effective intervention to reduce future offending. The same evidence also shows early offenders who go to court and into prisons rapidly lose their fear of the system.

We also know that with even more ingrained offenders intensive case management can work. In the West Midlands as well as the lowest crime of all the major cities we have the lowest adult re-offending rates in the country. This reflects a massive investment of dedicated police offender managers alongside Probation; now the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) and National Probation Service (NPS). We as a Force monitor 7,500 offenders and directly manage 3,500 of which only 1,000 are with the CRC and NPS. We do this because it works not because we have to.

However effective prevention can be there will always be a need to respond when crime happens. The process of managing justice is far from modern. Despite the advent of tape recorded and video interview systems West Midlands Police spends thousands converting tapes into written transcripts for the court process which are then rarely used. I hope digital technology will change this. The scale and pace of digital evidence will require real thought regarding how it can be collected, interpreted and used within the courts and how the colossal disclosure implications can be managed, yet even now we still cannot agree a common CCTV format for our local courts. Live Link and voice activated software will change how we can give evidence and how statements will be prepared. We have to move quickly to embrace new working practices as technology won’t change the approach alone. Today in our area we take an average 3.4 listings after first appearance in the magistrates’ court to reach a disposal.

Finally, there is a need to simplify the players. Youth Offending Teams, Community Rehabilitation Companies, National Probation Service, Police and CPS amongst others occupy overlapping space. Victim care is also occupied by a proliferation of services. However if preventative treatment is needed for those most likely to offend, with life time case management for acute cases, then we have to recognise a more central role for health. The new Health Outcomes Framework has bound health more closely to a need to reduce re-offending. Too often poor parenting, drugs, alcohol, mental health and basic life skills lie at the heart of crime and yet 63 per cent of convictions in the magistrates’ court just result in a fine, hardly the answer to offending.

Deputy Chief Constable Dave Thompson QPM, West Midlands Police
@DCCDaveThompson

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