Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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Is taxpayers' money used effectively to reduce crime?

The Justice Committee publishes its report on Crime reduction policies: a co-ordinated approach? Final report on the Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme. 

Develop a longer term strategy

The Treasury should seriously question whether taxpayers’ money is used in ways most likely to reduce future crime and victimisation, says the Justice Committee in a report published yesterday, which calls on the Treasury to develop a longer term strategy for the use of resources tied up currently in the criminal justice system.

The Committee says it is unclear whether the Ministry and the Treasury undertook an exercise to consider the case for spending some of the resources earmarked for new prison building on the development of justice reinvestment approaches, as advocated by the Committee’s predecessor.

All parts of the criminal justice system have had to cope with significant spending cuts, yet it appears that the Government has shied away from using the need to make those cuts to re-evaluate how and where money is spent. This is in contrast to the approach which the Committee saw in Texas—renowned for its “tough on crime” approach—where, along with many other US states, a political consensus has been reached 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.

Chair's comments

Committee Chair Sir Alan Beith MP said:

“The Committee welcomes the development of various cross-Government initiatives to deal with the sources of crime, such as the Troubled Families Programme. However, the resources attached to very early intervention schemes like Family Nurse Partnerships are tiny in relation to the prison budget and the staggeringly high costs to society of crime.”

For example, each year:

  • Violent crime, 44% of which is alcohol related, costs almost £30 billion
  • Crime perpetrated by people who had conduct problems in childhood costs around £60 billion.
  • Drug related crime costs £13.3 billion.
  • Anti-social behaviour related to alcohol abuse costs £11 billion

On the other hand, the costs of preventative investment further upstream are often relatively small:

  • Evidence based parenting programmes cost about £1,200 per child.
  • £17.5m has been dedicated to extending Family Nurse Partnerships. A review of 30 years of research in the USA has shown a 59% reduction in arrests and a 90% reduction in supervision orders by age 15 of the children of mothers helped by such programmes.
  • It is estimated that drug treatment prevented 4.9 million offences in 2010-11, saving approx. £960 million

Further comments

Sir Alan Beith said:

“The advantage of a justice reinvestment approach is that rational decisions, commanding support across the political spectrum, can be made about the effective use of public resources for crime reduction, including the appropriate use of imprisonment, without compromising public safety and security.”

Ongoing shift of power

There have been significant changes to the local partnership landscape for crime reduction since 2010, including the introduction of police and crime commissioners and the transfer of public health responsibilities to local authorities, reflecting the ongoing shift of power in this field from Whitehall to local communities. The Committee’s evidence highlights the clear benefits of collective ownership, pooled funding and joint priorities that have been facilitated by this approach.

However, the Committee notes that there remains a considerable way to go before the promotion of good physical and mental health can be considered a full part of the crime reduction picture, and considers that addressing the funding of mental health services should be an urgent priority. Similarly, alcohol treatment remains a Cinderella service both in prison and in the community. The Committee also concludes that a prison system which effectively rehabilitates a smaller number of offenders, while other offenders are rehabilitated through robust community sentences, has the potential to bring about a bigger reduction in crime.

Crime rates and reoffending rates are simple measures used to reflect the effectiveness, or otherwise, of an extensive and complex series of policies and processes, and offenders’ responses to them. The Committee observed that Ministers appear to have taken steps to increase their understanding of crime trends only at a relatively late stage in this Parliament, and proposed that the Government should seek to recognise more explicitly where reoffending has fallen and seek to understand why.

Lack of rigorous assessment

However, the greatest problem identified by the Committee is the lack of rigorous assessment of where taxpayers’ money can be most effectively spent in cutting crime. Calling for a more evidence-based approach, Committee Chair Sir Alan Beith said:

“Although crime has been falling, the extent to which this can, in practice, be attributed to national or local crime reduction policies is unclear. We do not have the right structures in place to provide a collective memory of research evidence, its relative weight, and its implications for policy making, including the best direction of resources, and we call on the Government to create an independent and authoritative body to facilitate this.”

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