A new report out today from the House of Commons Justice Committee has called on the government to 'question whether taxpayers’ money is used in ways most likely to reduce future crime and victimisation, including evaluating that spent on custodial sentencing, and develop a longer-term strategy for the use of resources in this manner'.
According to the report, the government's approach 'remains focused largely on the activity of the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, which can overemphasise the significance in attempting to reduce crime of measures taken entirely within the criminal justice system'. A number of factors are at play when it comes to victimisation rates, the MPs point out. 'It is difficult to attribute falls in crime directly to particular crime reduction policies or practices'.
The MPs also argue that the government has failed to take a strategic approach to downsizing the criminal justice system, which has been a missed opportunity given the need to make savings:
'All parts of the criminal justice system have had to cope with significant spending cuts, yet it appears to us that the Government has shied away from using the need to make significant cuts to re-evaluate how and where money is spent. This is in contrast to the approach that we saw in Texas (and over half of US states) where they concluded 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'.
'What remains lacking... is... a rigorous assessment of where taxpayers’ money can most effectively be spent in cutting crime, and a government-wide approach which recognises more explicitly that the criminal justice system is only one limited part of the system through which taxpayers’ money is spent to keep people safe from crime'.
Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Richard Garside, who gave evidence to the Committee, said:
'I am pleased that the Justice Committee has picked up on our call for a serious look at downsizing our bloated criminal justice system, rather than merely imposing salami slicing cuts on already overworked staff. In our submission to the Committee we argued that there was considerable scope for a reduction in criminal justice spending, if this reduction is complemented by a comparable reduction in the size and scope of the criminal justice agencies affected.
'The Committee's point that criminal justice policies play only a limited role in keeping us safe is an important one. As our Justice Matters initiative is demonstrating, there are many things a government can do to encourage a safer society, less riven by conflict and victimisation. Most aren't badged 'crime reduction' or delivered by a man in a uniform.
'This is a good and useful report and I welcome its publication'.
The Centre's submission to the Justice Committee is available to download here.
Richard Garside's discussion of the issues at stake can be read here.