Friday, 5 June 2015

Challenges for the Criminal Justice System in the 2015 Parliament

On Thursday 04 June 2015 I attended a conference in Northampton, organised by the Institute for Public Safety Crime and Justice Northampton. The conference  concentrated on 'Challenges for the Criminal Justice System in the 2015 Parliament' and was lead by guest speaker Tom Gash, Director of Research, at the Institute for Government.

I found out about this event through a post on The University of Northampton Law Departments Facebook page. When I originally signed up to the event, I assumed that the event was predominantly being held for current UoN students, including those studying law and criminology. I graduated from The University of Northampton in February 2015 but did not think this would be an issue as it was an open event. I decided that I would sign up to the event through Eventbright as the event looked very interesting and relevant to my current roles within the criminal justice system. I also thought that it would be useful to build on topics to discuss in future Pupillage interviews etc. 

However, I was surprised when I arrived to discover that there were not any students present. Delegates included a mixture of academics and professionals that work within various roles within the criminal justice system. This included a Magistrate and members of Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioners Office.This was a bonus, except for the fact that I felt very underdressed in casual clothing. I nearly always wear professional clothing or dresses. However, I had decided to dress down for the event when I mistakenly assumed that most delegates would be students in their casual wear. Thankfully nobody appeared to be concerned about my choice of footwear being a pair of Converse instead of my usual heels. 

It was clear from the start of yesterday's conference that Tom was very knowledgeable about the criminal justice system, government and policing. It is no surprise when Tom is currently the Director of Research, at the Institute for Government and was previously a Crime Adviser in the Prime Ministers Strategy Unit. Tom demonstrated outstanding people skills. He encouraged everyone present to contribute to the topic and made everyone feel that their contributions were valued. In fact, there were times I could see him writing bullet points on the issues people raised so he could refer to them later on. I am curious to see whether any of these additional ideas end up in his new book that is going to be released in January 2016. (After attending this event and meeting Tom I am genuinely excited to read his book which is conveniently being released in January 2016, my birthday month, yay.)

During this conference, Tom outlined some of the policy concerns that the new Conservative government need to address. Tom also emphasised the practical problems that need to be resolved to enable services within the criminal justice system to provide high-quality services to this government's cuts to budgets. Tom asked how we can manage an increasing demand within the criminal justice system and prisons under current budgets. 

This is a concern that I have had for some time as a Lay Observer, Independent Custody Visitor, Appropriate Adult and aspiring barrister. Particularly when I see the police and prisons reducing staff at the same time as detainee numbers are increasing. I am very concerned that the pressure is going to continue to increase on these service providers under the current government. Especially when the Conservatives are known for tough love. The Conservatives have already cut legal aid and have a low tolerance for criminals. These factors alone will add to the burden that the criminal justice faces. This is without considering the continued benefit cuts to people on low incomes or unemployed. I am concerned that we will see an incline in petty crime figures when more people are going to face times of poverty and despair. It is interesting how our morals and behaviour change when our survival mode kicks in. 

Tom also explained that sometimes reductions are not directly related to law enforcement. For example changes in car security technology has resulted in a decline in car crime since the 90's. Also, youth offending figures decline when young detainees leave their teen years and enter their 20's. This led to me contemplating whether the criminal justice system should even be used to deal with young offenders guilty of petty offences. It should always be used for people who are a genuine threat to members of society. For example sexual offenders and dangerous offenders. However is it productive or cost effective to have hormonal youths with a lack of self-discipline or parental guidance, entwined in the criminal justice system when they are at a vulnerable age. I have always been concerned that criminalising youths for minor offences is counter productive and leads to some youths believing that there is no way out or that they no longer have anything to loose. This could be significantly damaging to their future prospects, resulting in a continued life of crime.

Tom moved on to discuss the errors in tackling crime which is down to myths. For example, the perception that prison is effective when you only have to look at the high statistics for re-offenders to see that prison is the least effective and the mostly costly. In fact, I know from my training with Catch22 that statistics suggest that ex-prisoners who re-offend actually move on to commit even more serious offences. I am looking forward to discovering Toms opinion on this matter in his book as he appeared to lack confidence in both prison and rehabilitation. He did mention the USA's three strike test very briefly, though. I will conduct some research into this and write about it in a future blog.

During yesterdays seminar, Tom emphasised the need for a change in the structure and culture of both the police and the criminal justice system. There is a growing pressure for the Police to investigate historic child sex exploitation which adds to the pressures that the criminal justice system is subject to. There is also a rise in the use of the internet has resulted in crimes such as grooming shifting over to the internet, creating new demands on police investigations.

One delegate, who was from the Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioners office was passionate about increasing the visibility of police on the beat through special constables. However, Tom suggested that customers are concerned more about service delivery when they are a victim of crime than the visibility of officers on the streets. Tom went on to discuss studies which have proven that police presence and police car patrol has no effect on reducing crime. I have to agree with Tom. As someone who works with offenders and in particular young offenders I know that they lack respect for special constables anyway a they know that they lack powers. Nevertheless, Tom explained that when police presence is targeted to particular areas suffering high crime, their presence can be effective.

It was obvious from yesterday's session that the criminal justice system faces a difficult task alone as the political focus has shifted to debating other issues including our membership within the EU. Something that I am sure all of you are aware of, regardless of whether you are pro or anti-EU, membership. With this in mind, we worked in groups to identify and discuss the challenges that we believe the criminal justice system faces over the next 5 years. As part of these discussions, we considered ways in which the current government could resolve these challenges. We considered shifting public attitudes, engaging businesses and citizens to reduce crime, ways to provide more cost effective justice, a collaboration of services, meeting the public's needs and local accountability.

I found the session very interesting and thought-provoking. It was also a fantastic opportunity for networking. I am looking forward to future events held by the Institute for Public Safety Crime and Justice Northampton

The next conference to be held by the Institute for Public Safety Crime and Justice Northampton is ''Reappraising the measurement of violence'. It will take place on Thursday 02 July 2015 at 12:30 pm. It will be held at Sunley Conference Centre at The University of Northampton. You can reserve a place for free on Eventbright

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