The Government's Approach to Crime Prevention - Home Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

Background to our inquiry

1.  The Labour Government famously came to power in 1997 on a pledge to be "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime." Criminal justice reform has been a major goal of that and subsequent Labour administrations, with 19 pieces of related legislation passed since 1997. The early adoption of the Crime and Disorder Act, in 1998, introduced for the specific purpose of "preventing crime and disorder", appeared to signal serious intentions to tackle the causes of crime; section 6 for example placed a duty on every local area to "formulate and implement a strategy for the reduction of crime and disorder."[1] At the same time, the Government believed that its programme of social change, including Sure Start centres and the New Deal for Communities, would form an equally important component of this agenda.

2.  Ten years after the 1997 election, the then Home Secretary, the Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP introduced a new crime prevention strategy, Cutting Crime that she told the House would "reinvigorate our efforts" towards "strong and sustainable reductions in crime."[2] We wanted to examine whether the Government is meeting its pledge to be "tough on the causes of crime" by looking briefly at its record on crime reduction since 1997 before examining the extent to which lessons learnt during this period have been applied to the development of this latest strategy and gauging early indications of its success. Given the breadth of the topic, we decided to focus our attention on three key aspects of crime prevention in which we had a particular interest; as well as considering the roles played by different actors and how they are co-ordinated.

3.  Our terms of reference, published in December 2009, therefore set out our intention to "examine the Government's approach to crime prevention using as a framework its strategy Cutting Crime: a new partnership 2008-11." In particular the inquiry was to focus on:

  • Measures to prevent youth criminality;
  • Measures to design out crime;
  • Measures to reduce re-offending;
  • Measures to maximise partnership working at a local and national level;
  • The role of the different public sector partners in crime prevention;
  • The role of the third sector in crime prevention; and
  • The role of business in crime prevention.

In the course of our inquiry we took oral evidence from 27 witnesses and received 23 written memoranda. A list of those who gave evidence is annexed. We also held a round-table discussion with an organisation called User Voice, run by former offenders. We would like to thank all those who contributed their time and expertise to our inquiry.


Progress on crime reduction prior to the introduction of the Cutting Crime strategy in 2007

4.  By the mid-1990s crime levels had reached a record high, having risen annually by an average of around 5% since 1918.[3] The Labour Government's first crime reduction strategy focused efforts on raising the performance of the police and the crime and disorder reduction partnerships; reducing burglary and property crime; tackling vehicle crime; dealing effectively with young offenders; dealing effectively with adult offenders; dealing with disorder and anti-social behaviour; and helping victims and witnesses.[4]

5.  On the face of it, police and partner agencies, who were given significant additional funding from 2000, did indeed raise their performance: according to official Government figures, crime fell by 35% between 1997 and 2006.[5] The Government met its targets to reduce domestic burglary by 25% between 1998/99 and 2005 and vehicle crime by 30% between 1998/99 and 2004.[6] However, while these reductions in volume crime met the Government's stated aims—with the usual caveat about the limitations of recorded crime and British Crime Survey statistics as true indicators of crime levels[7]—there were less impressive reductions in other crime types, particularly robbery and serious violent crime.[8]

6.  In 1997 some 40% of offenders cautioned or convicted for an indictable offence were under 21.[9] The Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Board, John Drew, argued that over the following decade there was "a huge amount of focus on youth offending in a way that was not there beforehand".[10] This led, amongst other developments, to the expansion of the youth justice system into areas of policy which have not traditionally been part of its remit, such as parenting programmes, summer Splash schemes for children in high crime areas and Youth Inclusion and Support Programmes to identify children at risk of offending.[11]

7.  However, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies argued in 2008 that the Government's record on youth crime reduction was:

Less impressive than many would have expected following a wide-ranging programme of youth justice reform and substantial investment …

Even if the first-time entrants target is met, it masks the fact that overall, in recent years, the trend has been for more children to be drawn into the youth justice system.[12]

Despite some initial falls during the period, there were 109,800 first time entrants to the criminal justice system aged under 18 during 2006/07, up from 89,800 in 2000/01 (data prior to 2000 are incomplete).[13]

8.  In terms of adult offenders, changes in sentencing policy led to an increase in the prison population of around 21,000, or 30%, between 1997 and 2007.[14] It has been estimated that the 22% rise occurring between 1997 and 2003 reduced crime by around 5% during this period.[15] However, attempts to "provide constructive regimes in the Prison Service that address offending behaviour and improve educational and work skills" appear to have been less successful. According to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Government targets on reducing re-offending were "modified, missed or dropped".[16] It remained the case that around half of all crime was committed by those with previous convictions.

9.  Despite the introduction of a new regime for tackling anti-social behaviour, built around a tiered use of tools and powers combining enforcement with support, public perceptions of anti-social behaviour remained high. Some 18% of those interviewed for the 2006/07 British Crime Survey perceived high levels of anti-social behaviour around them, not a substantial reduction from 19% in 2001/02, the first time perceptions of anti-social behaviour were measured in this particular way.[17] Progress was particularly slow in terms of the final aspect of the Government's strategy, helping victims and witnesses. Public confidence in the criminal justice system was extremely low: only 33% of those interviewed for the 2006/07 British Crime Survey were confident that the criminal justice system met the needs of victims and 41% that it was effective in bringing offenders to justice; 65% thought that crime had risen in the country over the previous two years.[18]

10.  The Government appeared to make good progress on some aspects of its crime prevention agenda in its first ten years in office. In particular, British Crime Survey and police data showed significant reductions in vehicle crime and burglary, continuing the downward trend begun in 1995. Additional funding and incentives were provided to focus local efforts on crime reduction in a much more co-ordinated manner. However, despite a reformed youth justice system whose overarching function was defined in statute as the prevention of crime, the numbers of young people entering the criminal justice system had actually increased by 2007. Furthermore, progress to reduce re-offending was unsatisfactory: offenders with previous convictions continued to be responsible for around half of all crime. Perceptions of anti-social behaviour did not improve dramatically, and public confidence in the criminal justice system was shockingly low. In our inquiry, we sought to judge the success of the Government's approach to crime prevention by assessing how well its current strategy, introduced in 2007, addresses these outstanding shortcomings.


11.  Certain aspects of crime prevention are common sense. Speaking in relation to preventing youth crime, Louise Casey, Director-General of the Neighbourhoods, Crime and Justice Group at the Home Office was clear that "it is absolutely not rocket science."[19] However, some witnesses expressed concern about what they perceived as the lack of an effective evidence base for crime prevention initiatives. The Liberal Democrat's Home Affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne MP, said he was:

Frankly shocked at how little hard evidence there is on the social factors that actually create crime; and we ought to be investing as a society much more in model building so that we can actually understand the levers which we genuinely have to affect crime and get it down more rapidly.[20]

The Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP argued that too often, in response to a short-term pressure, Governments "create programmes, thump them in, put money behind them and say that will be fine; but they have not looked at it properly and it ends up costing us money with no tangible saving."[21] Our colleagues on the Justice Committee recently criticised the lack of research effort that has gone into evaluating what works in reducing re-offending.[22]

12.  Much of the evidence we do have comes from the United States. A comprehensive Home Office 1998 study on crime prevention research noted this point and warned that:

We cannot be sure that what works in one country will work equally well in another. The widespread ownership of firearms, the absence of a public health service, the ethnic minority composition of many inner city areas and the widespread use of drugs are just some of the features of American society which are different from ours. It is important therefore that we develop strategies for testing preventive interventions in England and Wales.[23]

This scientific approach is espoused by the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science. Its Head, Professor Gloria Laycock, took the view that research into crime prevention is currently insufficient as the Government "does not really understand" the extent to which good experimentation in this field could lead to a stronger knowledge base.[24]

13.  The Home Office study cited above made a further point about the importance of involving target groups in the design and implementation of crime prevention programmes.[25] Former offenders involved with the organisation User Voice argued strongly in favour of greater contact between individuals like themselves and decision-makers to counter what they regard as the distorting effects of a well-meaning but out-of-touch criminal justice industry.[26] The Government has previously attempted to gauge the views of offenders, for example for the Home Office publication Tell them so they listen;[27] the extent of the impact of such consultations on policy-making is another matter.


14.  The Government's current crime prevention strategy, Cutting Crime—a new partnership 2008-11, was published in July 2007. It is based around the following themes:

  • Taking a stronger focus on serious violence by addressing the drivers of violence, intervening early to prevent it, preventing escalation, being robust in our response to violent offenders and finding innovative solutions to difficult issues;
  • Continuing pressure to combat anti-social behaviour through supportive interventions, including parenting contracts that address the underlying factors contributing to anti-social behaviour, alongside robust enforcement;
  • Renewed focus on young people—dealing with social exclusion and strengthening the links between the police, schools and youth provision;
  • A new national approach to designing out crime—working closely with the corporate sector to design crime out of new products and services (including the built environment) at an early stage;
  • Continuing to reduce re-offending by strengthening the capability of the police, Crime Prosecution Service and courts to simplify criminal justice system processes, focusing on the most prolific offenders and on reducing re-offending;
  • Creating a greater sense of national partnership by bringing together key partners at a National Crime Reduction Board and strengthening relationships between Government and Industry and between Government and the Third Sector; and
  • Freeing up local partners through simplifying performance assessment and cutting red tape and strengthening local partnership working to bring all up to the level of the best.[28]

15.  The overarching themes of the Government's current crime prevention strategy, Cutting Crime, reflect what the evidence suggests are the outstanding gaps in performance on crime reduction over the previous decade. However, we have a general concern about the evidence base used to support the implementation of measures to achieve these aims, some of which we explore in more detail later in our Report. Witnesses found it difficult to assess the extent to which individual measures have contributed to crime reduction. We understand that the Government often faces pressure to respond to crime concerns immediately, but Ministers should still ensure that interventions are properly scoped, piloted and evaluated. In doing this they should take account of the experiences of victims and offenders, such as the organisation User Voice set up by former offenders for this precise purpose.

1   Crime and Disorder Act 1998, Preamble and Article 6 Back

2   HC Deb, 19 July 2007, col 463 [Commons Chamber] Back

3   Q 375 [Professor Laycock] Back

4   Home Office, Crime Reduction Strategy, November 1999 Back

5   Enver Solomon, Richard Garside, Chris Eades and Max Rutherford, Ten Years of criminal justice under Labour-an independent audit,Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, January 2007, p 10 Back

6   Q 290; Home Office Departmental Report 2004-05, June 2005  Back

7   For example Barclay and Tavares (1999) estimate that of the 100% of offences which are committed, approximately 45.2% are actually reported to the police by victims. Back

8   Home Office, Cutting Crime-a new partnership 2008-11, p 3 Back

9   Home Office crime reduction website, Back

10   Q 114 Back

11   Enver Solomon and Richard Garside, Ten years of Labour's youth justice reforms: an independent audit. Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, May 2008, p 10 Back

12   Enver Solomon and Richard Garside, Ten years of Labour's youth justice reforms: an independent audit. Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, May 2008, p 10 Back

13   HC Deb, 20 October 2009, col 1367W [Commons written answer] Back

14   Prison Reform Trust, Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, December 2007, p 4 Back

15   Patrick Carter, Managing Offenders, reducing crime, Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, December 2003  Back

16   Ministry of Justice, Sentencing Statistics: England and Wales 2008, January 2010, p 23 Back

17   Anti-social behaviour order statistics, Standard Note SN/SG/3112, House of Commons Library, 30 October 2009, p 3 Back

18   Chris Kershaw, Sian Nicholas and Alison Walker (eds) , Crime in England and Wales 2006/07, Home Office, July 2007, pp 96, 105 Back

19   Qq 5, 10 Back

20   Q 258 Back

21   Q 287 Back

22   Justice Committee, First Report of Session 2009-10, Cutting Crime: the case for justice reinvestment, HC 94, para 110 Back

23   Peter Goldblatt, "Comparing the effectiveness of different approaches", Reducing offending: an assessment of research evidence on ways of dealing with offending behaviour, Home Office Research Study 187, 1998, p 124 Back

24   Q 381 Back

25   John Graham, "What works in preventing criminality", Reducing offending: an assessment of research evidence on ways of dealing with offending behaviour, Home Office Research Study 187, 1998, p 17 Back

26   Annex A Back

27   Juliet Lyon et al, 'Tell them so they listen': Messages from young people in custody, Home Office Research Study 201, 2000 Back

28   Home Office, Cutting Crime-a new partnership 2008-11 Back

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