IPPR: devolve criminal justice budget to reduce low-level offending

18 Jan 16

City mayors should be given control of some areas of criminal justice spending in order to allow local authorities to develop new approaches to cut offending, the Institute for Public Policy Research has said.

The think-tank concluded that devolved local control of budgets for low-risk adult offenders, estimated to be around £400m, would tackle an “inherent flaw” in the criminal justice system, namely the disproportionate burden these cases place on the Ministry of Justice.

Low-risk offenders represent a large volume of court cases, prison receptions and probation caseloads, the report stated, but there is no financial incentive for local agencies to reduce offending.

Devolution to the combined authority mayors being established as part of the government’s devolution drive, would therefore incentivise local community services to divert financial resources from prison places to tackling underlying social problems, today’s Prisons and prevention report found.

Youth justice reforms introduced in Ohio, where the budget for prison places was devolved and local districts charged for the cost of prison places, had led to increased investment in community services and high quality alternatives to custody, it highlighted.

This had reduced the number of young people being incarcerated by the state from more than 2,600 in 1992 when the programme was introduced, to less than 510 in 2013.

A similar model in England and Wales could focus resources on people who commit low-level crime as a result of social problems, Jonathan Clifton, the IPPR’s associate director for public services said. Freeing up cash from the prisons system would allow local areas to invest in tackling social problems can drive reoffending such as lack of qualifications, mental health problems and homelessness.

“Our court system is clogged-up, our prisons are overflowing and we have the highest reoffending rate in Western Europe. Reform is desperately needed to reduce offending,” he added.

Without such action, the think-tank claimed the prison population could climb from the current level of 84,920 inmates to nearly 90,000 by the end of the parliament.

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