Our approach to law and order

The shadow Home Secretary, Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, gave a keynote speech to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies setting out the Conservative Party's thinking on criminal justice.

By: 
Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP
Date: 
Tuesday, 17 November, 2009

It's very easy for the politics of crime to be just about the headlines. Tough talk, eye-catching initiatives, steps to capture the popular mood sometimes seem to be an inescapable part of building confidence in the ability of a Government or of an Opposition to make our country a safer place.

And the truth is that we do live in a world of tabloids and soundbites, where you do literally only have a few words or a few seconds to catch the attention and build confidence.

But that's not nearly enough to get the job done properly, to get to grips with law and order problems in a way that is genuinely likely to deliver results.

So every would-be Government and every would-be Home Secretary needs to bring science and analysis to the job of fighting crime in the UK. And a sense also that arresting people is only a small part of dealing with a much more complex set of problems.

It's also the case that we have to see Britain's criminal justice challenges as part of a broader tapestry of social problems that must be addressed. As you will know, David Cameron has talked extensively about the need for the next Conservative Government to begin the task of fixing our broken society; that our mission is to repair our broken society - to heal the wounds of poverty, crime and social disorder.

To get to grips with the deprivation that blights far too many communities; to rebuild a sense of purpose and responsibility in individuals, families and communities.

We will need to bring a whole range of different solutions to bear on endemic welfare dependency, on the breakdown of the family and on generational educational failure.

On welfare reform, we need to end the idea that the state gives you money for nothing....

On school reform, the existing school system must be replaced with a new system that breaks the stranglehold of the educational establishment and gives parents what they want and what their children deserve...

....and we will take action to support marriage and family stability.

My job, though, is to deliver the law and order piece of the jigsaw.

And I have come to the job of Shadow Home Secretary with a clear goal of digging into some of the hard evidence about our law and order challenges and to shape solutions that reflect that evidence.

So in this speech I want to set out for you some of our perspectives about that evidence -

about the nature of the key crime issues in our society,

about who commits it, and what we know about their behaviour.

about what we know works in seeking to deter people from committing acts of crime,

and about the ways in which the failings of our criminal justice system make it more difficult to address those law and order challenges.

I also want to give a sense of the direction of our thinking in dealing with those challenges.

I want to talk about some of the academic work that is being carried out into what's going wrong and to highlight some of the ideas which underpin the work we are doing on law and order.

Of course, politics isn't just about implementing the academic evidence; otherwise there'd be no need for politicians...

..so I want to set some parameters for the debate and start a meaningful discussion with the academic community...

....And I know that some problems are very difficult to resolve - but I want to explain for you some of the ways in which we believe we can make a difference by building stronger communities and creating a more disciplined society.

Before I start though, let me just say a couple of words about the relationship between the Government and the scientific community.

I want to be clear about one thing in particular. We have no desire or intention of ignoring independent advice. Indeed we want to work closely with the academic community to deliver the right solutions for our country.

However issues arise when someone holds a formal public position, whether paid or unpaid. The formality of that position brings with it an extra responsibility - not to abandon scientific principles but to take extreme care about how those principles are presented in a public arena.

We are all subject to a media intensive way of life, and the things we say can be easily misinterpreted or misrepresented and can easily send the wrong messages.

I am well aware that the current rows over the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs are very unhelpful indeed, and regardless of my own views about the details of the issues involved, you have my assurance that if I am Home Secretary I will do everything I can to make sure a row like this never happens again.

So let's start by taking a look at what we know about the fundamentals of crime and criminal behaviour in the UK.

Criminology began as a part of the enlightenment vision that the social world could be understood through scientific understanding of behaviour.

And although establishing a clear picture of who commits crime in the UK is difficult because of the disparate and conflicting sources of information, criminology still has much to teach policy makers...

Helping us understand the age at which an individual commits their first offense - the 'age on onset'...

...how this age is linked to criminals' 'career length' and the tendency for individual offenders to continue offending over a defined period of time,

...the degree of 'specialisation': whether an offender commits one 'type' of offending,

.... whether crimes are committed together or with others,

and, perhaps most importantly, why people stop offending.

The relationship between crime and age

Criminologists know that most offenders start committing crime between the ages of 8 and 14, commit most offences between 15 and 19 and stop offending between 20 and 29.  And although exact ages at which offending peaks changes depending on the data used, the link between age and crime is one of the most robust empirical findings in criminology.

This pattern of offending is known as the 'age-crime curve'. Although the 'age crime curve' was first published in 1931, the meaning of the curve has been the matter of some of the most heated arguments in criminology:

Does the aggregate age crime curve reflect individual patterns of behaviour?

Is the decline in offending a reflection of the frequency or prevalence of offending?

And arguments about why most offenders stop committing crime in their 20s continue in criminology departments up and down the country.

I recognise that there is a clear correlation between the propensity to offend when young, and the likelihood of committing crime later in life.

And I understand that beginning to offend at an early age is very often a predictor of  a relatively long criminal career...that people who commit more offences when young have a high probability of committing a relatively high number of offences later in life.

Research suggests that while some offenders 'specialise' in one type of offending, the majority of offenders - particularly young offenders - engage in a range of types of offending.

Although criminal careers tend to be short - probably between 5 to 12 years - perhaps longer for more serious offenders - researchers have identified "high" and "low" rate criminal career trajectories for young people....a small group of chronic and persistent offenders commit a large fraction of all crimes.

More often than not this hard core group comes from the most challenged of backgrounds. Under educated, exposed to abuse and addiction in childhood, lacking any kind of family solidity - these are all too often the young people at the sharp end of Broken Britain.

We also know that males commit more crime than females (although recently crime committed by girls is increasing more rapidly), that some ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented at each and every stage of the criminal justice system - which may or may not reflect discrimination - and as people enter adulthood they change from group to lone offending.

Developmental and Life-Course Criminology

A particular school of academic work - Developmental and Life-Course Criminology - has attempted to explain changes in the rates of offending and antisocial behaviour by individuals at different ages. And within there are a few academics whose ideas have resonated with policy makers.

For example, Terrie Moffitt argues that there are two "types" of offenders:

adolescence-limited and life-course-persistent offenders...

...the former group get involved in offending for a relatively short period during their teenage years

...the life-course-persistent group have the longest criminal careers, the greatest number of convictions, the highest level of involvement in violent offending and the broadest criminal repertoire.

I've found this insight particularly useful in looking at the nature of antisocial behaviour in our society.

However two other eminent criminologists, Sampson and Laub, argue that the increasing strength of bonds to family, friends, schools and other social institutions explain a decrease in offending....

This academic research has policy implications: those who subscribe to Moffit's theory argue that different programmes are needed for life-course-persistent and adolescence-limited groups of offenders, while Sampson & Laub's supporters argue that the way to have an impact on crime is to improve bonds with families, schools and communities.

I'm actually not convinced that the two different theories are incompatible. Dealing with the problems of the hard core will need more than simple interventions. So the dual approach has to be right. But equally strengthening bonds between young offenders and those around them is clearly a key to reducing the propensity to offend. That much can be seen in the work of youth engagement projects around the country.

So what then are Britain's key crime challenges?

Over the past five months I have been visiting communities around the country, trying to understand how we could have a greater impact on quality of life, particularly our most challenged communities.

And in between these visits, I have been talking to experts to understand the scale of and nature of challenges we face.

It seems to me pretty clear that there are three areas above all else where we need to have a significant impact. They are antisocial behaviour, violence - and especially gang related violence - and organised crime.

Antisocial behaviour can be so disruptive to people's lives...

...and violence causes so much fear and anguish.

And if organised crime is allowed to take hold, it can create a vicious downward spiral of fear, intimidation and economic decline, which harms the vulnerable families and deprived communities the most.

Antisocial Behaviour

To most people in this country, in most communities, antisocial behaviour is the big issue that tops their list of law and order concerns. But it also has a deeper significance - in the case of hard core offenders it is very often the starting point for what becomes a career of criminality.

That's why it is such an important challenge for us.

In the past, the term 'antisocial behaviour' was used - almost exclusively by criminologists - to describe a range of behaviour (illegal or otherwise) that departed from social norms.

More recently, in the UK the term has been defined in statute as behaviour that is likely to "cause harassment, alarm or distress". But in practice antisocial behaviour is not simple to define - encapsulating a range of different problems from nuisance animals to abandoned cars.

But I know what I mean when talking about antisocial behaviour. To me antisocial behaviour is minor criminality - actions that are against the law and for which there are criminal sanctions. Like threatening and abusive behaviour, criminal damage and acts of disorder.

But society quite rightly is cautious about administering criminal sanctions in all such situations, for fear of doing long term damage to someone's prospects following a fairly minor transgression.

The level of antisocial behaviour in Britain today is staggering.

A Home Office count of the amount of antisocial behaviour on a weekday in 2004 uncovered more than 66,000 incidents. And a full year's worth of data for incidents reported to the police in 2007-08 showed that there were nearly 4 million incidents recorded in England and Wales.

But as only one in ten people suffering antisocial behaviour reported incidents to the police, there could have been 90,000 incidents every day in 2007-08.

So it's a massive problem, one that has an impact across the country, but it is the most deprived communities that have the greatest perceived levels of antisocial behaviour. (Nearly a third of people living in the most deprived areas had high levels of perceived antisocial behaviour compared with just seven per cent of people in the least deprived areas.)

The nature of antisocial behaviour

When you consider those most likely to get involved in antisocial behaviour, the Moffitt theory of Dual Taxonomy seems to me to be very relevant. It seems pretty clear that there are two groups who get into this kind of trouble.

Evidence from a large-scale, longitudinal survey commissioned by the Home Office found that more than a fifth per cent of young people aged from 10 to 25 had committed at least one of the four anti-social 'types' of behaviour  measured in the preceding year; the study also identified that the peak age for committing ASB between 14 and 15.

And research by the National Audit office found that most individuals are responsible for relatively minor incidents of anti-social behaviour and quickly desist from such behaviour.  In fact, two thirds of offenders only came into contact with the criminal justice system once.

In other words, antisocial behaviour is sometimes the preserve of teenagers who are bored, and get carried away.

And simple interventions can deal with the majority of this type of offenders - Moffit's 'adolescent limited group'.

But a core of people repeatedly engages in anti-social behaviour. And in its most serious guise it is committed by a small group of young people from difficult backgrounds, with few boundaries in their lives.

These young people and their families are at the heart of our challenge to mend our Broken Society.

They are the people  at the centre of our law and order challenge because the correlation between their early troublemaking and subsequent more serious criminality is clear:  they are likely to go on and become embroiled in other major law and order challenges - it's the start of what my colleague Oliver Letwin once called the "conveyor belt to crime" and it's a central reason why dealing with antisocial behaviour is so important.

Gang related violence

I think one of the clearest manifestations of that "conveyor belt" can be found in the gang culture in our Cities.

Some of those who are, at the age of twelve or thirteen, committing antisocial acts of minor criminality - particularly the hard core from the most troubled backgrounds -will also be those who become integral members of gangs and who later in life may well become involved with knife crime.

I believe that the culture of violence and gang membership that dogs so many of our inner city areas is the second big crime challenge we need to deal with.

The scale of gang crime

One nationwide estimate puts the number of young people involved in a gang at 30,000 and a 2004 home office survey estimated that 6 per cent of ten to 19-year-olds belonged to a gang in England and Wales.

Research in the US, Canada and England and Wales on classifying gangs reveals how varied the gang phenomenon is and although criminologists in Britain are beginning to study the experience of gangs in England and Wales, but research is still relatively limited.

However, academics have shown that there are three types of gang operating in the UK - any effective policy aimed at curbing gang violence and activity needs to take into account the spectrum of gang organisation.

A "peer group" - a small, unorganised, transient grouping occupying the same space with a common history that has little involvement in crime....

....a gang: a relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of young people for whom crime and violence is an essential part of its identity....

...And an organised criminal group: members are professionally involved in crime for personal gain operating almost exclusively in the "grey" or illegal marketplace

From his research into gangs in Waltham Forest, in northeast London, Professor John Pitts has produced one of the most interesting and insightful recent papers on gangs.

He breaks down individual members of gangs into six categories: core members; soldiers; street-level drug dealers; girlfriends; occasional (ambivalent) affiliates and reluctant gang members.

Pitts found that a minority of teenagers are escaping from the traumas of a challenging upbringing and finding a perverse sanctuary in gang membership, but that some are also reluctant members, forced in by peer pressure.

Drawing on data from two surveys and 54 interviews, the report challenged the idea that members willfully signed up to gang life. He argued that gang involvement for a third of his subjects was not wholly voluntary. Youths living in a known gang area were forced into participating or carrying a weapon out of fear - if they were asked to carry out a crime and refused, the consequences could be dire.

These are the postcode gangs which fight a battle against each other, and which, despite the best efforts of police, are a key factor in the level of young knife and gun attacks in recent years that have led to the deaths of numerous young people.

But credit where credit is due.

In places like Merseyside there have been signs of improvement in the wake of efforts to tackle the culture of weapon use among gang members.

Karyn McCluskey has learnt from the high impact "call ins" used to address gang violence in Boston and Cincinatti. Her team in Glasgow are working to breakdown the social conventions that bind the gangs together. And if gang related killings continue, the Strathclyde police will arrest after the entire gang for any crimes: from drug sales to outstanding payments for TV licenses.

And the independent mediation service in Birmingham - brainchild of two former police officers who have extensive experience dealing with gang crime in the city - is helping resolve inter-gang tension in the West Midlands.

So we have specialist police squads working to keep gangs apart....

....and many of the hardest core gang members are now in prison.

But let no one think that this problem has gone away.  There are worrying developments in London, where there is increased evidence of punishment shootings taking place between gang members.

Of course because of our gun laws the scale of such crime is highly limited by comparison with the US. But the links between our gang culture and that of the US is clear to see, with gangs sharing colours, emblems and gang heroes with their counterparts over the other side of the Atlantic.

The third type of gang to me shows quite clearly how our different crime challenges interlink. Serious and organised crime in our society, very often through the drugs trade, remains a major challenge for us. And the link between gangs and organised crime in some areas is clear - where the gangs on local streets are in fact part of a well organised criminal group. They are distinguishable from street gangs by the fact that they are well organised, united by common economic interests and involved in illegal money making opportunities.

Organised crime

The scale of organised crime

The danger of trying to reach a stable definition of organised crime is that we attempt to impose a false coherence on a diverse range of people and activities. (These include drug and people trafficking, extortion, credit card fraud, VAT evasion and intellectual property theft.)

But whatever the definition organised crime is a serious problem:

800,000 people were illegally moved across international borders each year....

...and there were nearly 30,000 recorded offences of drug trafficking in 2008-09

Other than for drug importers, cargo thieves and local vice, protection and pornography syndicates, the evidence suggests that British 'organised criminals' tend to be relatively short term groups drawn together for specific projects, such as fraud and armed robbery, from a pool of professional criminals.

But the degree to which organised criminal groups tap into increasingly young groups of hangers on is a relatively new feature, and one that can have a pervasive effect on local communities.

And the link between crime and drugs & alcohol is clear.

1 in 4 test positive for opiates at the time of arrest.

There were almost a million victims of alcohol-fuelled violence last year, with much domestic violence fuelled by alcohol.  And while crime-related problems associated with alcohol consumption are well known and not particularly new, the cost of policing the night time economy is considerable.

The organised drug trade is now deep rooted in many of our most deprived areas. If you compare the figures for deprivation in data collected by the Department for Communities and Local Government you can find a clear correlation between increases in drug crime and poverty. Not absolutely everywhere, but in most cases.

And feeding a drug habit drives crime; it is no coincidence that it is those in our most deprived areas who are most likely to be the victims of property crime like burglary.

It is this link - the way in which the organised drug trade accelerates a cycle of decline in already hard-pressed areas that I was actually talking about when I made my recent, and much-remarked upon comparison with the US series, The Wire - between the destruction of communities in Baltimore and the way in which communities on our own estates are now being driven eroded by drug dependency and serious crime.

The state of the criminal justice system

So how do we start to deal with these challenges?

Of course, the problems and the solutions are deep-rooted, and the policies that can start to turn things round are complex - bringing together changes in welfare, education, family policy and so forth. But we also need to recognise and begin to change the systemic failings of the criminal justice system we have.

And in particular to ensure that it sends the right messages, that it has the right influence on the behaviour of those with a propensity to offend.

The majority of crimes are never investigated, only three in a hundred crimes result in a guilty conviction and victims have less confidence once they've used the system than before.

Less than half of all offences get reported and the public need to have greater belief that something will be done. People won't report crimes because they believe nothing can or will be done or that they may even end up in trouble with the police themselves...

...they think the police are disinterested...distracted and distrustful.

The system has failed to deal with the problem of repeat offenders. 100,000 offenders are responsible for half of all crimes in England and Wales. The most active of these, 5,000 people, account for one in ten offences.

We don't intervene early enough - either to deter the fringe young troublemakers or to try to stop some of the hard core of young people getting onto the "conveyor belt to crime".

And all too often the needs of the system dictate lighter penalties, even though the interests of justice and of effective rehabilitation would be better served by a much tougher approach.

Instead our response to crime is dictated by police bureaucracy and pressures in the prison system.  Police spend more time on paperwork than on patrol.   In October, the prison population reached a record high and  prisons are at 99 per cent capacity.  The result is that too many serious offenders get off with cautions, and too many offenders who do go to prison are let out far earlier than they should be.  Since the early release scheme was introduced, nearly 70,000 prisoners have been let out early, including those sentenced for violence against the person.

We have drowned our police forces and police officers in excessive performance management systems, and targets and statistics designed to help politicians make speeches rather than police fight crime. It's easier for a police officer under pressure to hit targets to chase the easy option - to issue a caution to close a case rather than get to the root of the problem.

And even when we do deal with an offence properly, we fail to rehabilitate offenders properly. All too often shorter sentences and little rehabilitation means that young offenders in particular head straight back to the environment in which they offended -addiction, a rough estate or the same gang. The number of persistent young offenders sentenced by courts in England and Wales has increased by 92 per cent since 1997.

Our record on drugs in prison is particularly poor.  The Government admits that one in five offenders who report using drugs first used them while in prison and given the impact of the drug trade on some inner city communities, the failure to help addicts in prison is a national scandal.

The principles Conservatives will apply

When the Government came to power it trumpeted an approach to policy which was going to be evidence based. In many instances, though, the evidence has not informed the policy.

If we are elected next May, you should look to a Conservative Government to bring a degree of evidential rigour to what we do.

And we will apply four principles to the criminal justice system.

The first is that early intervention is crucial.  We will intervene early to tackle antisocial behaviour - both to deter the group who may be casual offenders and to try to begin to rein back the hard core. But we will also build into our early intervention strategies support for those voluntary sector groups that can have a hugely positive role to play in re-engaging those young offenders who have become completely alienated from society.

The second is that we need to stop people believing they can get away with it. That means we need a criminal justice system that detects crime much more effectively and that delivers meaningful punishments when appropriate.

The third is that we need to dramatically improve the rehabilitation of offenders - particularly drug addicts.

And the fourth is that we need to create a climate in which our professionals can operate free from the dead hand of Government. We need a streamlined, transparent and less bureaucratic system in which we align the objectives of people in the criminal justice system and remove the perverse incentives that can get in the way of justice and deterrence.

Early intervention

Crime prevention will be crucial to many aspects of the way in which we seek to address social breakdown in this country - through health visitors for young families, through special support programmes in our schools, and through the criminal justice system.

But in addition to support before the offenders reach the criminal justice system, I believe that appropriate early intervention will also stop the spread of disorder.

Stopping the spread of disorder

In 1982, James Wilson and George Kelling argued that unchecked minor crimes and signs of disorder would lead to more anti-social behaviour and also more serious crime. This is the 'Broken Windows' theory: if a window in a building is broken and left unrepaired, other windows will also be broken because a signal that no one cares is sent.

The theory gained a number of prominent champions, including former Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani and Bill Bratton, formerly the New York City Police Commissioner and now Chief of Police in Los Angeles.

Despite their success reducing crime rates in New York, many social scientists attacked the Broken Windows theory, arguing that the fall in crime could have been due to other factors such as a demographic changes or a slowdown in the crack cocaine epidemic.

But a 2008 study undertaken by Kees Keizer and a team of researchers at the University of Groningen has added considerable weight to the theory.

The Broken Window's theory suggests that the probability that a person breaks a window is increased when a window is already broken, or when someone watches a window being broken. But the researchers in Groningen sought to test whether the theory could be expanded to see if the violation of one rule (or social norm) would cause the onset of different types of disorder.

And the random control experiments found that when one social norm was violated, people were much more likely to engage in other inappropriate behaviour.

In the researcher's words: "when people observe that others violated a certain social norm or legitimate rule, they are more likely to violate even other norms or rule  which causes disorder to spread."

For example:

when a postbox surrounded by litter was covered in graffiti, people were more than twice as likely to steal an envelope that contained a $5 note from the postbox....
....and when bicycles were locked to a fence in violation of a visible sign, people were almost three times as likely to disobey another sign prohibiting the use of a gap in a fence to access a car park.

Although this research was the first to empirically test how disorder spreads, the implications are important.

There is a clear message for policy makers and police officers: early disorder diagnosis and intervention are of vital importance when fighting the spread of disorder. Signs of inappropriate behavior like graffiti or broken windows lead to other inappropriate behaviour,, which in turn results in the inhibition of other norms. So once disorder has spread, merely fixing the broken windows or removing the graffiti may not be sufficient anymore. An effective intervention should now address the goal to act appropriately on all fronts."

Acting quickly

I see early intervention a crucial way to deal with of antisocial behaviour.

It will allow the police to deal quickly and effectively with the occasional troublemaker, to ensure that they do not offend again. And, used effectively, early intervention will peel away some hard core offenders, by using a mix of sanction and positive engagement.

The main weapon that Ministers have put forward to combat antisocial behaviour, the ASBO, takes months to put in place and only happens after a young troublemaker has offended again and again - when a young offender does come before the courts it's frequently after a whole series of offences. We do them no favours by not acting quickly.

If we equip our police with simple powers to intervene quickly when they find a young person stepping out of line, if there are consequences for acts of antisocial behaviour, we are much more likely to succeed in preventing repeat performances.

Because of the "authority gap" - the lack of an effective level of intervention between the police and adults who should be exerting authority over the behaviour of young people - the police are often called to deal with the only source of authority that can do anything. But if they just get away with it, it's hardly surprising that they are unconcerned about the risks of doing it again.

Sometimes a combination of police discretion and informal solutions will do the trick. Like an apology, a simple penalty agreed with parents or digging the garden of the person whose fence has been knocked down. And these solutions are already emerging in some force areas.  Positive engagement is required too. But it is wrong to do that unaccompanied by any sanction for their actions.

In other circumstances, a more formal option is needed.

But I recognise that the criminal justice system is as much a part of the problem as the solution and in most  less serious cases should be used as a last (and not a first) resort. Not just because reaching for the criminal justice system has is ineffective but because it criminalises young people unnecessarily.

So we are looking at simple options where we can administer non-judicial penalties, like grounding orders or community punishments, as an alternative to going to court.

For some of the broader group this can serve as what I have dubbed the 21st Century version of the clip around the ear. For the hard core it may be their first meeting with the concept of right and wrong; better that they discover this early, before they go on to commit more serious offences.

But alongside this, we also need to recognise and strengthen the role of the voluntary sector in providing positive engagement for those who are among the most alienated of young offenders. A former offender turned good can have a positive impact on a younger person in a way that no policy or politician ever could.t

I believe that the strategy set out by my colleague Michael Gove to allow new organisations to enter the secondary school sector provides one massive opportunity to do this - allowing organisations like Kidz Company and others that mentor troubled young people the opportunity to provide real alternatives for those who are today just dropping out of education altogether and ending up on the streets.

But in addition to this, I will be bringing forward proposals shortly about the role that the Home Office can play in fostering and supporting those who offer potential young offenders a better alternative.

Ending the caution culture

It is essential, though, that the entire criminal justice system sends the right message to offenders about the consequences of their actions. Our system needs both sticks and carrots.

And at the moment the system is much too likely to send out the wrong messages.

I have been warning for months about the level of use of cautions in this country - something that sends entirely the wrong message to offenders, and adds to a sense that offenders will not be caught or held accountable for their actions. I'm glad that the Government now seems to be waking up to the problem.

In 1998 there were 23,500 people cautioned for violence against the person. By 2007, that number had doubled to 52,300. Not all were serious, but I have been told of far too many that were unprovoked and serious.

(The recent case of an offender who attacked a young woman stranger, broke her nose, and was still only cautioned is just one example.)

And the reason we have that culture is that cautions and fixed penalty notices have become easy ways for the police to tick the box and close a crime without all the bureaucracy that comes with a move towards prosecution. All too often the caution is the safe option - justice is not seen to be done.

And knowing what we know about offenders and their background, this is just likely to reinforce a pattern of reoffending.

That message has now been taken up by both the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and by the Director of Public Prosecutions. And belatedly the Government has launched its own review of the situation.

We'll watch that review carefully. I hope we get swift action. But I am clear that in Government, if we need to, we intend to move as quickly as possible to reduce the useage of cautions and fixed penalty notices.

Not to abolish them.

In some areas they have a real role to play.

But to end the situation where so many are being used inappropriately.

Rehabilitation of offenders

The same problem about sending the wrong message arises from the Government's early release scheme that has proved to be a licence for criminals to offend again, not a way of improving rehabilitation.

And it is the rehabilitation of offenders which must be our third priority.

I have profound concerns about the way in which we deal with offenders, particularly the young and those who arrive in prison as drug addicts.

Our welfare reform and justice plans include radical plans to bring the principle of payment by results to offender management and preventing reoffending.

We are much too inclined to put prisoners into a cell for eighteen hours or more a day, and to do much too little to deal with root problems in their lives - like addiction, lack of education, or mental health problems - or a destructive combination of all three.

We know that the majority of offenders have major challenges in their lives. Many are victims of the social crisis in many of Britain's communities.

Yet we keep these people in prison, often for too short a time to rehabilitate them, and then send them back to the same streets where they offended in the first place, to find the same pushers who sold them drugs in the first place, and to steal money in the same communities they blighted in the first place.

This has to change: I believe our plans for prison reform - coupled with our plans that would require every prisoner released from prison without a job to join a structured back to work programme - would make a real difference.

Police reform

But above all, politicians need to trust front line professionals to do the right job in dealing with our crime challenges.

The Government's approach to the police has been a familiar one: higher public spending combined with an ever tighter central grip. And Labour's approach to managing information about crime has been to centralise it and to keep it out of people's hands.

In common with other public services, the police are bedevilled with national targets, interference and the bureaucracy created by central intervention. The result has been that even as resources for the police have reached record levels, officers feel unable to deliver the service they want - while the gulf between the police and public is growing.

Our plans for police reform involve

.....stronger local accountability: the right to elect a police commissioner to represent the interest of local communities in policing....

....greater transparency: access to detailed information you can rely on about crime rates....

And a return common sense policing - giving back discretion to police officers.

Stronger local accountability

The public need to know who to complain to if things go wrong - and kick them out of office in the event of misbehaviour or poor performance.

Instead of being directed by, and accountable to, the Home Secretary, police forces should be directed by and accountable to the communities they serve.

For the first time, local communities will be empowered to insist on the local policing priorities they want.  It will give them a real choice over the crime fighting strategy in their area.  And it will be an important element in the process of re-energising local democracy.

Greater transparency

Parents expect to be able to compare standards between schools in their area. Patients expect to be able to assess performance in their local hospitals if they need treatment.  And we believe residents should have better information about the level of crime in their neighbourhoods

So we will give the public much more information about crime in their streets.

People will be able to compare crime levels more easily month on month, year on year within their own neighbourhoods, and with other neighbourhoods too.

A return to common sense policing

If we are going to return to give back discretion to police officers, we must stop the culture of interference. We'll do that by stripping away the layers of bureaucracy that blight the work of the police.

(If anyone doubts the absurdity of the system we have built up, then I suggest they just go to their local police station and take a look in the filing cabinet the contains the blank forms.

When I did that, in a police station in the Midlands, it was a real eye opener. For a start, it wasn't just a single cabinet. It was two.

And many of the forms were pages long.

There could be no clearer example of the bureaucratic age in which we live.)

We have to change the crime recording standards which force officers to follow the rule book rather than use discretion in dealing with minor issues.

(I met one officer who had spent time at a computer screen recording as a crime an eight year old knocking over a four year old in a park - because it had been reported to him. The rule book that required this is one clear example of the nonsense that our police deal with.)

It also is an extreme example of the bureaucratic structures that now exist across policing in the UK - of targets, performance indicators, data collection, multiple inspection regimes, form filling, and other processes that eat up police time and resource and keep police off the streets.

Fewer problems are solved and fewer criminals are caught.

And we need to change the way in which the police interact with the court system, so we remove the perverse incentives to issue a caution rather than prosecute. This means restoring charging powers over summary crimes to the local custody sergeant.

There is also a clear conflict between the goals of the police - to pursue offenders - and those of the CPS which is required to maximise conviction rates by avoiding 'uncertain' cases.

We will align the objectives of police and CPS so they work together and not against each other. No serious offender should get away with a caution because the officer is not sure the CPS will want to take the case. Either a caution is the right solution, or it is not.

And there is one other big change that I want to mention briefly today.

I highlighted serious and organised crime as one of our key challenges. Yet at the moment, our approach to tackling it is fragmented, with 42 local forces operating independently of each other, and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency operating internationally.

There is general acceptance that there is a gap between the two that is only being served in areas like the East Midlands where there is partnership working across the forces there.

I intend our proposed Border Police force to play a key role in tackling organised crime in this country, much of which crosses our border, and I think the East Midlands collaboration should be repeated elsewhere.

Those two changes together should make a significant difference in fighting crime at the highest level.

Conclusion

Politicians should not be deluded by rising or falling overall crime figures - many factors affect crime levels, and many of those are outside the influence of politics. So this is not a challenge that can be met by the criminal justice system alone.

We need to deal with educational failure, family breakdown, endemic benefit dependency, a poverty of aspiration to help cut crime.

But a Conservative Government will ensure that we have a criminal justice system that can help repair our broken society - not just apply a sticking plaster to the problem.

And with help from the academic community and experts on the front line, I am determined to improve the quality of life in our communities and to restore public confidence in our criminal justice system.