The work of the Office for Criminal Justice Reform - Justice Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-70)


3 MARCH 2009

  Q60  Mr Heath: How have you supported them?

  Jonathan Slater: One of our tasks is to make sure that each of them has the most up-to-date data across the whole range of their responsibilities as quickly as possible and in a way that enables them to compare with similar Local Criminal Justice Boards. So we would draw to their attention areas where they seem to be less efficient or less effective than others who were similar. I employ a team of people, two per region, who engage with each of the Local Criminal Justice Boards in their region to have the sort of conversations you would expect: "This data looks a bit odd. Are you making sure you are on top of that?" Equally, where we are identifying through those conversations really good practice, we bring them together across the region or across the country and encourage others to do likewise. If we find one LCJB taking excellent action about race disproportionality, we will encourage others to follow in their footsteps. So there is a performance agenda like that which is crucial and remains so.

  Q61  Mr Heath: Do you think they have got the right sort of data and data analysis to enable them to construct effective strategies for reducing reoffending?

  Jonathan Slater: We are proud of the improvements that we have made to the management information systems at their disposal that we launched last year, CJ Know-How, which has got about 1,500 users in Local Criminal Justice Boards. We also have seen significant benefits in what we call a waterfall chart which each LCJB is being given in groups to identify where there is an inefficiency in the system, again, in comparison with others where there seems to be wasted work or duplication, and encouraging them to use it.

  Q62  Mr Heath: A lot of that is comparative between RCJBs to make sure that they are learning from each other's mistakes or successes. I just wondered to what extent they are able to dig in within their own data to arrive at the right local decisions to establish the most effective responses?

  Jonathan Slater: Yes; absolutely. We have moved in the period of the current Spending Review 2008 to a different sort of relationship with Local Criminal Justice Boards as existed hitherto. So in the first period of their lives, in ways that you might expect for new organisations, there was quite a lot of mandating from the centre: numbers of offences brought to justice too low, here is a target for improving them and getting up to a base level. To get to the next level of improvement you want to be seeking more ownership locally for identifying where there are improvements they might make themselves, and that is very much the programme of work that we have been engaged in over the last year or two, putting additional funds into each Local Criminal Justice Board to enable them to appoint a programme manager to take on that responsibility themselves, so giving them more funding to invest in their capacity and the tools to do the job for themselves. We would only want to be pointing things out to them where they were not doing them for themselves. We are looking to them to set their own targets, their own plans, challenged only by us if we see their level of ambition being not as high as it might be but, to the maximum degree possible, seeking their ownership.

  Q63  Mr Heath: One of the things that became very clear to us as a committee in the other inquiry that we are doing at the moment, the Justice Reinvestment Inquiry, is that there is at least a potential mismatch between the locally based organisations within the LCJB, the police and the CPS popping along together, identifying on the same basis their priorities, and the National Prison Service and, increasingly, National Probation Service, which does not have that same local relationship. How do you nail those two together to make the prison system fit within a localised structure if it is going to be very effective at dealing with offenders?

  Jonathan Slater: We look to both prisons and probation to play a full role on Local Criminal Justice Boards.

  Q64  Mr Heath: But they do not have local prisoners, do they, very often?

  Jonathan Slater: Prisons are involved in Local Criminal Justice Boards; not in quite the same way as probation, with 42 chiefs, one for each LCJB area, I could not deny, but, equally, there is a significant incentive for local prisons to be involved in their Local Criminal Justice Board, where they exist.

  Q65  Mr Heath: The point I am making is the offenders who are in that prison, once they are released from prison, probably will not be in the same Local Criminal Justice Board area at all; they will go home and some more will arrive and, therefore, you do not have that relationship. Is that not a weakness in the system?

  Jonathan Slater: It clearly is true, as you say, that the prisoners are dispersed across the country, but what we are finding encouraging is, increasingly Local Criminal Justice Boards taking on the reducing reoffending agenda. So there are five, for example, that are piloting, with our active supporting encouragement, integrated offender management in line with the Justice Reinvestment issues that you are exploring, identifying in their locality prolific offenders coming out of jail on short prison sentences, not subject to statutory supervision, but by a partnership between the prison where they are coming out from, probation, who would then know where they will be going, and the police, whose interest is in stopping them from reoffending, we can bridge that gap in supervision that has existed hitherto. I would say this is a developing role for Local Criminal Justice Boards, not one that they have perhaps focused on as much before but one they can do all be it within the constraints you have described. Where people are being dispersed there requires to be co-ordination between LCJBs undoubtedly.

  Q66  Chairman: Is there not a wider question which arises from this, which is that prison is seen by the sentencing system in particular as a free good which is demand-led, whereas most of the other elements in the system are resource limited and are chargeable to some of those who may be making the decisions, so there is a mismatch between the way in which prison can be used because of the assumption that, however many people are sent to prison, room will be found for them somewhere and some of the other elements of the system which are much more constrained and where some of the participants are having to make decisions with genuine resource constraints on them?

  Jonathan Slater: Clearly it is vitally important that government can accurately predict the level of prison just as much as, I would say, probation capacity requirements in the light of decisions made about legislation, likely impacts on demand that we described earlier and is making policy decisions appropriately. It is more acute, it is more obvious, for prisons because they have got walls and so you get overcrowding, but it is just as important for probation, is it not, because if you are not careful probation officers' case loads will expand too much. Equally, for the other parts of the criminal justice system, you need to ensure, do you not, that the courts have got the capacity to cope, that the police officers have the capacity to cope. So the work that we are doing to make more transparent the issue of demand across the system that we referred to earlier, all be it at an early stage, is important. I have not seen evidence of the fact that sentencers do not hold the budget for the prison being the determining factor. As I say, in fact what has been striking from the work that we have been doing on confidence (and you will be just as familiar, if not more so, than I am) is the extent to which the public is generally a bit more lenient when it comes down to it in practice than the sentencers. It seems to me the challenge that you have identified is more to do with transparency and openness and data than anything else.

  Q67  Alun Michael: Can I follow that up, because I think the Chairman's question goes right to the heart of effectiveness. You said earlier one bit of the criminal justice system is able to provide something which can help another, and you referred to transfers between the police and Crown Prosecution Service. Is not there a similar benefit where we know that to the extent that in prison if people have opportunity for education and training and personal development they are more likely to go out and find more positive engagement in life, in other words less likely to offend? So are you looking—because this follows on from issues of overcrowding—to look at other bits of the criminal justice system actually making a contribution within prison in order to make those sentence experiences more effective and, if not, why not?

  Jonathan Slater: The particular responsibility of OCJR is to ensure the different elements of the CJS are more joined up than they have been, for the reasons we have been discussing. As you say, there is plenty of evidence that reoffending rates are impacted on by the efforts of people outside the system, outside the CJS, to support their employment, to support their training, in various other ways. That is set out in PSA23 and the infrastructure around local area agreements that seek to bind in other agencies to provide them with that support. Our role is to make the links between bits of the criminal justice system.

  Q68  Alun Michael: I am sorry, we have evidence that the relationship with prison officers, what happens within prison in terms of education, has a significant effect on reoffending. Is not that an issue for alignment, as you put it earlier?

  Jonathan Slater: It is important that prison officers do their job as effectively as possible. Where there is an issue which is the responsibility of one agency within the system, it is not helpful for me to second-guess their efforts. I get involved at the join between one and another. That is why I mentioned integrated offender management, where we can reduce reoffending by contributions that the police can make when somebody comes out of prison, to take that as a specific example, or I work with prisons to improve their efficiency through implementing virtual courts where there is a join between the agencies. So the issues you raise are absolutely vital, as you say, but I work across the join.

  Q69  Mr Turner: I was going to ask a question following that one, but what is the meaning of the words "understanding race disproportionality at key stages in the criminal justice system"? What is the state of this indicator telling you about the causes of race disproportionality in the criminal justice system?

  Jonathan Slater: Sorry, your question is what do I mean by disproportionality in this context?

  Q70  Mr Turner: Yes.

  Jonathan Slater: One finds that, say, Asian men are twice as likely to be stopped and searched as white men, so that may be construed as disproportionate. The question that we are interested in is to what extent is that a feature of the criminal justice system, to do with the activities of people within it, to what extent is it a broader issue for society as a whole? When the Home Affairs Select Committee looked at this issue in respect of one particular group, young black men, most of their recommendations were about issues before people got into the criminal justice system about schools, mentoring, family support and so on, but, equally, there is a negative contribution made to disproportionality within the criminal justice system. Our job is to identify what it is and to reduce it to the maximum degree possible so that people are being treated equally, whatever their race.

  Chairman: I am afraid we have run out of time, so I must thank you, Mr Slater and Ms Lee, for being with us this afternoon. Thank you very much indeed. We are now going to go into private session.

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