Alternatives to Custody workshop, 10 June 2015

On 10 June 2015, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies held the first of two planned workshops assessing developments in alternatives to custody in the UK since 2000.

The purpose of these workshops is to explore why expansion in the use of alternatives has not resulted in any reduction in prisoner numbers. We want to identify examples of good practice, as well as problematic areas, in the use of alternatives, as part of a wider European project aiming to reduce our reliance on prison.

In four sessions we covered: the political rhetoric on community sanctions, with its growing emphasis on punishment and control; the rapid expansion in the use of supervision since 2000 and its effects; the recent surge in electronic monitoring and tracking; the work of women's centres in providing effective programmes; and new work being developed in the supervision of young adults.

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1: Net-widening and greater punitiveness: developments in community justice since 2000

Catherine Heard presented highlights from our UK research at the Centre, on 20 years of developments in community justice and alternatives to custody.

Savas Hadjipavlou, Director and Chief Executive of the Probation Institute, discussed problems caused by the punitive line pursued by successive governments around criminal sanctions and the failure to give weight to the other statutory purposes of sentencing. Savas also discussed challenges presented by the new through-the-gate requirements of the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) programme.

Jo Easton, Head of Policy and Research, Magistrates' Association, discussed the sentencing exercise in ‘cusp of custody’ cases and the need for better public understanding of sentencing. She also discussed the resourcing of mental health treatment programmes and rehabilitation programmes and concerns about the quality of information available to magistrates at the point of sentencing, following TR.

2: Possible futures in electronic monitoring and GPS tracking

Professor Anthea Hucklesby, University of Leeds, presented on recent trends in this area and highlights from her EU comparative research on electronic monitoring throughout the criminal justice process. Points of interest included the uptapped potential for stand-alone curfew requirements involving tagging to replace fines, community payback, or short custodial sentences, as a more proportionate response in some cases.

3: Women's centres and their role in delivering effective programmes

Dr Nicola Carr, Queen's University, Belfast, described the development of women's centres following the groundbreaking 2007 Corston report on women in the criminal justice system, reflecting on the achievements of the Inspire Women project in Northern Ireland. Nicola said that the recent demise of the project had resulted from the deprioritisation of women in the system as a result of resources being targeted to areas of perceived 'higher risk'.

4: Assessing young adults' maturity: what does good practice look like?

Amy Hall, Equality Officer from the Greater Manchester and Cheshire CRC, presented on the innovative rehabilitation programmes the CRC has piloted. The programmes have been taking a creative approach to using the guidance on Maturity Assessment developed by the T2A Alliance two years ago.

What's next on Alternatives to Custody in Europe?

  • Second workshop on UK policy and practice on 23 September 2015
  • Our national report on 15 years of developments around prisoner numbers and use of alternatives to custody, packed with data from all three UK jurisdictions and covering the main legislative and policy developments in pre-trial, sanctions and post-release measures. Out soon!
  • A national forum on alternatives to custody, later in 2015. To consider the results from all eight EU countries' national reports and the implications for policy and reform.

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