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November 23, 2013

Who shot JR?

Can justice reinvestment be successful in a very centralised political system?  That was the question posed to a group of criminal justice policy wonks this week.  It was hosted by Transform Justice because we have commissioned a report on the subject from Rob Allen, an advocate of Justice Reinvestment (JR) but one who sees its problems.  England and Wales has a very centralised system with courts, prisons and probation funded by the centre.  Only probation of these has any local structure, but this is also about to be centralised. The most localised bits of the criminal justice system are youth offending teams (based in Local Authorities) and Police and Crime Commissioners who are democratically elected and preside over regions.   There have been experiments with justice reinvestment (giving financial incentives to local statutory agencies to reduce imprisonment) in England and Wales, all with different models

1) The delegation of remand budgets.  Each local authority now pays for the bed nights of any child imprisoned on remand. If any local authority is responsible for fewer bed nights than the benchmark, it can keep the money saved and vice versa.

2) The delegation of child custody budgets.  This pilot involves the delegation of the whole of the child custody budget to two consortia of local authorities. Again there are more bed nights than the benchmark they suffer a financial hit and vice versa.

3) In Manchester and five separate London boroughs pilot programmes have been set up whereby the Ministry of Justice will pay local partners if they are successful in reducing court convictions and court disposals for adult and youth offenders in their areas

The third of these initiatives has had less success than the other two, but all have benefited some local agencies.  There is no sign that any of these initiatives will be extended into other areas, or even extended at all.  Is it because they don’t work or because the centre is too centric to understand how to let go?  In every case the pilots have been designed by the centre rather than local agencies.  And in the case of (3) the financial reward for success is (arguably) only a fraction of the true saving made by the centre.

I really believe in justice reinvestment, but fear that until the whole system has more faith in local thinking, it will be a huge struggle to make it work.