Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment - Justice Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 95 - 99)



  Q95  Chairman: Mr Faulkner and Professor McGuire, welcome to you. We are grateful to have your help this afternoon. Is it inherently difficult to base policy in this criminal justice field on research evidence?

  David Faulkner: It is inherently difficult, and I think there are some features about crime and criminal justice and the sorts of things that you have been discussing with Dr Chitty which are rather different from similar studies of cost-benefit or projections in other fields. I think there are two reasons about it. One is that human behaviour in his kind of field does not observe the sort of rules that economists, for instance, assume about rational decisions in their area. People who commit offences, who fail to turn up for appointments, do not think rationally and there is something unpredictable in human nature about the way that works which makes predicting inherently difficult. The other thing that is difficult about all of this is the huge number of variables which affect outcomes. The sort of influences on a judge or a magistrate passing sentence may be all kinds of things that you cannot plan for in a systematic way, and whether a person reoffends or not depends on all kinds of things which are not only to do with the experience that they may have had on their offending behaviour course or the requirements that there are for the conditions of their orders. So it is complex.

  Q96  Chairman: It is not self-evident that predicting irrational behaviour is more difficult that predicting the price of fuel, is it?

  David Faulkner: It seems to me more difficult. I have not defended that assertion in any rigorous way, but certainly in the experience I have had of trying to do this kind of work, it does seem to be more difficult, more complicated, in this field than many others. That is not to say that it cannot be done or the attempt should not be made, but there are limitations, I think, to what you can expect to achieve, and particularly limitations if you are going to try and control what happens. If I could offer a comment on the discussion that you have just had. The discussion seemed to be about how you predict, project, demands on the penal system. What is a very difficult question is how do you manage those demands if Government or Parliament wants to intervene and say, "We think a prison population of 80,000 is perfectly adequate and we do not want it to go up to 100,000", or, alternatively, "We really think that social stability", and so on, "calls for a larger prison population than the projections and that should be provided for"? The process at the moment seems to be one of predict and provide, rather than one of actually taking control, which, of course, raises questions of judicial independence and all kinds of things, and it is a politically very difficult judgment, but the mechanism for that, if it were wanted, is, I think, missing at present.

  Q97  Alun Michael: Can I try a couple of quotations on you? One is the assessment Rod Morgan made that there is "a policy-making crisis in Whitehall". Would both of you agree on that?

  Professor McGuire: I am not so sure about that. I do not know about a crisis, but there are serious problems that are unresolved and things do not necessarily seem to be going in an especially constructive direction in order to solve them. I think possibly that is truer of criminal justice policy than some other areas of policy.

  David Faulkner: I am not sure that I would say there is a crisis. There are obvious difficulties and what seems to me to be especially difficult at the moment is that there is a broad consensus, which I think ministers share, about what should be done to reduce crime, the points at which one should make an effort for prevention—use of community sentences, reducing the use of custody—but it is very difficult to translate those intentions into a policy in the context of where we now are politically: the attitude of the media, the resources that are available to Government. If I could indulge myself with a bit of history, when Douglas Hurd was facing a rather similar situation with much smaller numbers 20 years ago, the situation for him was different, partly because he had headroom to increase remission and at a stroke release three or four thousand prisoners, and the relationship between the Government and the opposition and the attitude of the media was quite different in that kind of field 20 years ago from what it is now. I think it is acutely difficult. Whether I would say, along with Rod Morgan, that it is a crisis, I am not sure.

  Q98  Alun Michael: Let us try another authoritative quotation. In 1993 you actually said that there was a serious void at the centre of the criminal justice system in terms of how criminal justice policy was developed by the Home Office. What is your assessment of the situation in the work by the Home Office as it now is and, particularly, the Department of Justice?

  David Faulkner: I think what happened round about 1993 was a change of attitude in the Government of the day and a change of public feeling about crime which you can relate to various events, and that, in this field, was the point at which the Government felt it could encourage the increased use of imprisonment without feeling that it had to match that with the capacity to give effect to the sentencers: the sorts of consideration that had taken place before that, for reasons which I entirely understand, where Michael Howard was setting off in a new direction and was not happy with the advice he was receiving, but my sense was that the way in which policy was made in this area changed at that point. With hindsight 15 years on, I do not know whether I would want to comment on whether that was a good thing or not, but it was, I think, certainly a turning point, and it has had consequences which we are still living with.

  Q99  Alun Michael: Your assessment of the development of policy by the Department of Justice today?

  David Faulkner: I would like, I think, to be a bit more closely in touch with it to answer that question, but my impression is that there are some very promising things taking place. At least the Carter Report and the Government's response to it is bringing that question of capacity and sentencing squarely into view and not being avoided in the way I think it had been for many years. Coming back to the memorandum that I offered the Committee, there does seem to be increasing interest in more local approaches to crime and treatment of offenders coming through gradually. We had some indications of it in your discussion with Dr Chitty, and I believe there is an announcement on integrated offender management which is due next week, which will, again, move in the same direction. Closer co-ordination services but a more local focus in which it would be possible to look for local solutions, still without problems of postcode justice, and so on, but resolving situations within the capacity and within the pressures that are there within the area without the problem of always becoming elevated to a national issue in national politics. There would still be questions of accountability there, but I find those two approaches encouraging.

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