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Without end-to-end reform the entire Criminal Justice System could collapse


Press Release2nd October 2023

  • The volume and complexity of demand facing the Criminal Justice System have increased over the past decade, with a 67 per cent rise in recorded crime since 2014 (from 4.17 million to 6.86 million offences).

  • Criminals are going unpunished and undeterred, victims are not receiving the justice they deserve and prisons continue to be overcrowded and unsafe.

  • TBI has set out plans for end-to-end reform of the entire CJS from charging to sentencing, with victims at the heart of the process.

The Criminal Justice System (CJS) is locked in a ‘doom spiral’ with criminals going unpunished and undeterred, a court system being overwhelmed and a prison system at breaking point.

‘A Plan to Reform the Criminal Justice System’ by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) explains how government efforts to paper over the cracks in one part of the system have simply resulted in unsustainable pressure on others.

Report authors and criminal justice experts Harvey Redgrave and Madeline Rolfe have therefore set out plans for end-to-end reform of the entire CJS from charging to sentencing, with victims at the heart of the process.

The statistics on the CJS underline the scale of the problem:

  • The volume and complexity of demand facing the CJS have increased over the past decade, with a 67 per cent rise in recorded crime since 2014 (from 4.17 million to 6.86 million offences).

  • Over the past decade, there has been a collapse in the rate at which offences are charged, significantly reducing the certainty of detection.

  • The average charge rate for all offences is now 5.7 per cent. For some offences, it is even lower, such as rape (2.1 per cent) and fraud (less than 1 per cent).

  • The length of time between an offence being committed and a charge being brought has increased by 63 per cent since 2010.

  • The latest population figures show that there are currently more than 86,500 people in prison, with an operational capacity of 87,710, leaving very little room for maneuver. To stay within capacity limits, the system already puts up with high levels of overcrowding. According to the Ministry of Justice’s own forecasts, that capacity will be materially breached within the next 2-3 years, meaning prisoners will either have to be let out early or placed in alternative accommodation.

The recommendations in the report fall into five broad categories:

  1. An enhanced system response for managing prolific offenders, with mandatory drug testing on arrest, diversion into treatment, multi-agency support and the use of electronic tags to enforce compliance.

  2. Streamlining the charging process, freeing up capacity to deal with the most serious and complex crimes.

  3. Improving the victim experience by using technology to create an end-to-end service for victims, with a national victim care hub and a single case officer assigned to each victim from the moment a crime is recorded.

  4. A new national timeliness target similar to A and E waiting time targets, and greater use of technology to drive efficiency across the whole criminal justice system and reduce long waiting times.

  5. Tougher and more intensive community sentences, and the use of next-generation tags such as alcohol and GPS ankle bracelets as alternatives to custody to help manage overcrowded prisons.

TBI Home Affairs lead Harvey Redgrave said:

“The Criminal Justice System is locked in a doom spiral. Criminals are going unpunished and undeterred, victims are not receiving the justice they deserve and prisons continue to be overcrowded and unsafe.

“Focusing solely on one of these issues in isolation will just ramp up problems elsewhere. If the recent increase in police officer numbers leads to a rise in charge rates, then the courts will not be able to cope. And if the court backlog is reduced then prisons will not be able to accommodate the increase in prisoners. The system is under-resourced, but more importantly it is inefficient and disjointed.

“We need end-to-end reform of the entire CJS to tackle persistent offending, give victims the support they deserve and end the use of expensive and ineffective short custodial sentences.”

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