Criminal justice inquiry launched

The prison population of England and Wales was 61,470 in 1997. It is projected to increase to almost 100,000 by 2014. Each prisoner costs the taxpayer, on average, £37,500 per year. At the same time, half of all crime is committed by previous offenders and ex prisoners are responsible for one in five recorded crimes. Two-thirds of people leaving prison re-offend within two years and the Social Exclusion Unit estimate that re-offending by ex – offenders’ costs society £11 billion per annum. In an economic downturn, we need to be using public funds for the benefit of communities, not wasting it on avoidable incarceration.

To help meet this challenge the LGiU has established a major national inquiry into the criminal justice system working with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Local Government.   This is a ground-breaking opportunity to explore the potential for local leadership in reducing crime and re-building communities. It is well recognised that the levers for delivering change sit with local partnerships: housing, benefits, drug and alcohol services, mental health services, employment and skills. But the strong partnership linkages to deliver help that would break the offending cycle are hard to find.

There is an urgent need to address issues facing the criminal justice system, for the benefit of local communities. The debate on police accountability has exposed a need for local leadership on crime, but without a clear direction for the future. Prison capacity is severely stretched, as rapid increases in prison numbers meet with both local opposition to new prison construction and an era of financial restraint. Multiple public agencies are charged with dealing with offenders but there is little coordination between them so offenders are slipping through the cracks. High numbers of prisoners have been in care, or suffer from mental health or dependency issues and current programmes to rehabilitate them have met with little success, with high rates of recidivism.  Citizens do not believe crime is falling and think they are unable to impact how community justice works in their area. Clearly a new approach is needed and we believe it is crucial that local government takes the lead in responding to these challenges.   Specifically, this inquiry will look at evidence that schemes such as justice reinvestment, which provide financial incentives for local areas to play a larger part in responding to crime, make good economic sense.

The inquiry will consider these questions from the perspective of local government and how local authorities can impact on the future direction and delivery of policy in this area. In an era when all local authorities work in partnership, joint working on justice in communities is patchy. The inquiry will look at the potential for joint strategies from early intervention to re-integration.  In particular, we will be focusing on the areas where investment in local services is likely to impact on re-offending. These include; social care, healthcare, benefits advice, housing, employment and skills. They are critical areas of support to achieve reintegration and stop the cycle that leads to imprisonment.

Local authorities have a key leadership role, and need the financial discretion and incentives to make these service linkages possible. In particular, we need to focus resources on early intervention and prevention, rather than merely meeting the cost of punishment after the fact. Local authorities can be the catalyst for this – this inquiry aims to  establish how we can make this happen.

The panel comprises:
David Burrowes MP (Con, Enfield Southgate) – Shadow Minister for Justice
David Howarth MP (LD, Cambridge) – Shadow Secretary of State for Justice
Clive Betts MP (Lab, Sheffield Attercliffe) – Chair of the APPG Local Government
Lord Hanningfield (Con)  Leader of Essex County Council
Baroness Henig CBE (Lab) President of the Association of Police Authorities
Alison Seabeck MP (Lab, Plymouth Devonport)
Baroness Stern CBE (CB)

Submissions of evidence and information are welcome from any organisations or individuals. Click here for more information on how you can contribute.