All on the same side 

Harvey Redgrave 

Most of us know instinctively what a good school looks like (happy kids, good educational attainment) or a successful hospital when we see one (improvements in patient health). But when it comes to the criminal justice system - the collection of agencies encompassing the police, prosecution service, courts, probation, prisons, and victims and witness services - things become more murky.

There is virtually no clarity about what ‘good’ looks like and the information about its performance which is publicly available is limited and uncoordinated.

Does a good criminal justice system aim for swift or fair justice? To protect the public? To reduce crime or the levels of harm in society? Nine months ago, we set out to find better ways to measure criminal justice performance. Along the way we had lots of interesting discussions with people across all these parts of the criminal justice system about how to do this. But what was quite startling was that almost nobody agreed on what ‘good’ for the system as a whole actually looked like. In other words, ‘what to measure’ was as a big a question as ‘how to measure’.

Following various reforms to policing (including the publication of crime maps and a new, more public-facing inspection framework), it is now more possible than it used to be for the public to understand how to assess whether their police service is doing a good job. 

But how many people would know how to assess the performance of local courts? Or the quality of services delivered to victims and witnesses? Or whether the prison and probation service are successfully punishing and rehabilitating offenders? The answer is very few.

A key problem is the lack of a common view as to what success should look like, which means individual criminal justice agencies often act in ways that run contrary to the best interests of the system as a whole. 

For example, courts staff are measured by HMCTS against the extent to which courts are in use. As a result, more trials are scheduled than can be heard so that there are backups when one trial cannot proceed. This leads to costs being incurred elsewhere - for example, witnesses who spend a day waiting to give evidence for a trial that is not then heard, and who may then be more likely to
disengage from the process.

Some say that greater public transparency is neither realistic, nor desirable. We tested that theory with public polling of 2,000 people.

The vast majority of respondents said they felt it was important to be informed about criminal justice services (though only a small minority felt well informed in practice). 85% of people felt it was important to be informed about the courts, whilst only 29% feel well informed about them.

Our poll also shows that the public are much less punitive than often imagined: Asked about the best ways to cut crime; 42% support more police on the streets, 41% better parenting, 33% better discipline in schools, 33% better rehabilitation of offenders. Just 8% say the police arresting more people cuts crime, only 7% say more people in prison does.

And we asked about the most important objective of the criminal justice system, when asked, the public prioritise efficiency in the system (32%) and a fair system that treats everyone equally (26%) over both reducing crime (13%) and looking after the needs of victims (8%).

Public protection/safety is deemed the most important aspect of criminal justice performance; 65% say keeping public safe from dangerous offenders is the priority, 47% support sentences from judges that both punish and rehabilitate offenders

In order to communicate with the public about the criminal justice system, PCCs and others need to be able to access basic performance data. Yet despite promises to expand the powers of PCCs, many are still unable to scrutinise how the system is performing as a whole.

The measures by which individual agencies are held to account are themselves often clunky and poorly designed, driving perverse behaviours. For example, focusing on conviction and/or charge rates in isolation may lead to ‘easy’ cases being pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service and police. Similarly, holding private community rehabilitation companies (responsible for low to medium-risk offenders) to account for completion of community sentences may lead to breaches being under-reported. Where individual agencies do share performance data locally, it is collected in different formats, according to metrics agreed in Whitehall, rather than locally, making meaningful analysis impossible.

As a result, PCCs are left in the dark about how local justice services are doing and are unable to hold different parts of the system to account. This is why Crest Analytics has invested in developing a criminal justice dashboard which can bring data from across the system together in one place and produce meaningful analysis for decision makers and the public.

Read the full report 'All on the same side', on rethinking how we measure performance in the criminal justice system here

Harvey Redgrave is Director of Strategy and Delivery at Crest Advisory. Previously, Harvey worked as a senior policy advisor at the Labour Party and was a deputy director at the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit.

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