An IPPR report suggests that local authorities, rather than prisons, are best placed to tackle re-offending among minor criminals.
Tough community sentences managed by local councils can tackle the causes of crime better than prisons, an Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report has concluded. ‘Redesigning Justice’ was published by the centre-left think tank last July, with an updated second version following in December.
A process known as ‘justice reinvestment’ is seen as an important way to break the cycle of re-offending and the report considers how this could work in the context of England and Wales.
Based on statistics for Lewisham, in south west London, its authors calculated that detaining 413 adult offenders in prison cost £2.5 million in 2009-2010. These inmates committed non-violent and non-sexual offences. The IPPR suggested that that money that could be made available to local agencies to prevent re-offending.
Local community-based alternatives were “cheaper and more effective” than custody but needed to be properly resourced and better co-ordinated, with local authorities being best placed to carry out co-ordination and management. Rehabilitation services in Lewisham were “confident about their ability to manage offenders locally” but would be weakened by widespread cuts in the justice budget.
The concept of justice reinvestment started in the United States, where campaigners sought to bring down extremely high re-offending rates among ex-prisoners. In some zip code areas, more than $1 million was spent locking up local offenders while local rehabilitation services were poorly supported. Prison budgets were used to fund community sentences, resulting in reductions in crime.
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has stated that prison does not always work while Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles is seeking to devolve more responsibility to local government in England. Justice reinvestment brings both of these themes (localism and rehabilitation) together.
‘Justice reinvestment’, it explains, is a form of preventative financing where funding is shifted away from dealing with problems “downstream” (e.g. policing and prisons) towards tackling them “upstream” (e.g. family breakdown, poverty, mental illness, drug and alcohol dependency).
In particular, the IPPR recommends:
• building “exit routes” into all stages of the criminal justice system so that low-risk offenders can be diverted into more effective rehabilitation programmes;
• a stipulation against the use of short-term prison sentences of less than six months, with community-based penalties used instead;
• making local authorities responsible for reducing re-offending in their geographic areas;
• devolving local custody budget for short-term adult offenders (of less than 12 months) to councils;
• decentralising the probation service and fully integrated its work into local crime reduction efforts, by placing it under local authority control.
Exit routes are seen as particularly relevant where homelessness or drug and alcohol problems are driving low-level crime. Councils would be charged back by the Prison Service every time that someone from their area is sent to prison for less than 12 months.
In summary, the authors note: “The goal, if it can be reached, is a great one: a criminal justice system that both punishes offenders and rehabilitates them, that costs less and is more effective at tackling crime and protecting the public.”
The report is available at www.ippr.org and has been produced as part of its ‘Redesigning justice: a new architecture for criminal justice’ research project.
Report sponsored by G4S