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Crime queries

Is taxpayers’ money used in ways most likely to reduce crime and victimisation? The Treasury should seriously question it, says the Justice Committee of MPs. In a report the committee calls on the Treasury to develop a longer term strategy for the use of resources tied up in the criminal justice system.

The committee says it is unclear whether the Ministry and the Treasury undertook an exercise to consider the case for spending some of the resources earmarked for new prison building on the development of justice reinvestment approaches, as advocated by the committee’s predecessor.

All parts of the criminal justice system have had to cope with spending cuts, yet it appears that the Government has shied away from using the need to make those cuts to re-evaluate how and where money is spent. This is in contrast to the approach which the committee saw in Texas—known for its “tough on crime” approach—where, with many other US states, a political consensus has been reached that any real effort to contain spending on corrections must have as its centrepiece a plan to limit the growth of, and ultimately reduce, the prison population.

The committee chair, the Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith said: “The committee welcomes the development of various cross-Government initiatives to deal with the sources of crime, such as the Troubled Families Programme. However, the resources attached to very early intervention schemes like Family Nurse Partnerships are tiny in relation to the prison budget and the staggeringly high costs to society of crime.”

The MPs offered some examples. Each year:

Violent crime, 44 per cent of which is alcohol related, costs almost £30 billion
Crime perpetrated by people who had conduct problems in childhood costs around £60 billion.
Drug related crime costs £13.3 billion.
Anti-social behaviour related to alcohol abuse costs £11 billion.

On the other hand, the costs of preventative investment further upstream are often relatively small:

Evidence based parenting programmes cost about £1,200 per child.
£17.5m has been dedicated to extending Family Nurse Partnerships. A review of 30 years of research in the USA has shown a 59pc reduction in arrests and a 90pc reduction in supervision orders by the age of 15 of the children of mothers helped by such programmes.
It is estimated that drug treatment prevented 4.9 million offences in 2010-11, saving about £960m.

Sir Alan Beith said: “The advantage of a justice reinvestment approach is that rational decisions, commanding support across the political spectrum, can be made about the effective use of public resources for crime reduction, including the appropriate use of imprisonment, without compromising public safety and security.”

There MPs point to changes to the local partnership landscape for crime reduction since the Coalition took power in 2010, including police and crime commissioners and the transfer of public health responsibilities to local authorities; a shift of power in this field from Whitehall the committee claims.

However, the committee said there remains a way to go before the promotion of good physical and mental health can be considered a full part of the crime reduction picture, and considers that addressing the funding of mental health services should be an urgent priority. Similarly, alcohol treatment remains a ‘Cinderella service’, in prison and in the community. The committee also concluded that a prison system which effectively rehabilitates a smaller number of offenders, while other offenders are rehabilitated through what it termed ‘robust community sentences’, has the potential to bring about a bigger reduction in crime.

Crime rates and reoffending rates are simple measures used to reflect the effectiveness, or otherwise, of an extensive and complex series of policies and processes, and offenders’ responses to them. The committee saw that Government ministers appear to have taken steps to increase their understanding of crime trends only at a relatively late stage in the 2010-5 Parliament, and proposed that the Government should seek to recognise more explicitly where re-offending has fallen and seek to understand why.

However, the greatest problem identified by the Committee was lack of assessment of where taxpayers’ money can be most effectively spent in cutting crime. Calling for a more evidence-based approach, Sir Alan Beith said: “Although crime has been falling, the extent to which this can, in practice, be attributed to national or local crime reduction policies is unclear. We do not have the right structures in place to provide a collective memory of research evidence, its relative weight, and its implications for policy making, including the best direction of resources, and we call on the Government to create an independent and authoritative body to facilitate this.”

The MPs heard evidence from and questioned academics, figures in the field of criminal justice, and Government ministers such as the Lib Dem crime prevention minister at the Home Office, Norman Baker.

For the report in full visit – http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmjust/307/307.pdf


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