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Unlocking the combination to criminal justice reform

Source: PSE Apr/May 17

If new mayors want to improve the life chances of their communities, help the most vulnerable and trailblaze public service reform, then criminal justice transformation and ‘whole-place’ pooling of public service budgets must be priorities, argue former communities secretary Hazel Blears and Professor Lord Patel of Bradford OBE, former chair of the Mental Health Act Commission.

On 4 May, six mayoral elections will be held across England to decide who will lead the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West of England and West Midlands combined authorities.

With collective responsibility for more than 9.5 million citizens and nearly a tenth of national GDP, these new directly-elected mayors will have an unparalleled mandate to give strategic leadership and direction as a spokesperson to some of the most significant and productive regions of England. 

Set within the context of Brexit negotiations, it is likely that many of the new mayors will see their primary role as one of promoting economic growth and guiding investment into their respective regions – given their responsibility for a range of fiscal and economic powers. If narrowly seen as their remit, this would be a missed opportunity. 

Public service transformation mandate 

Newly-elected mayors must not forget they also have a broader mandate for public service transformation. Many of the combined authorities have already negotiated significant devolution of powers for areas such as further education, skills, work, housing, transport, health and social care and criminal justice. This means that new mayors are natural leaders for providing effective cross-system and cross-sector leadership. This is because they will be able to: 

  • Convene leaders at all levels
  • Marshal and negotiate support from central government
  • Take responsibility for all aspects of service change
  • Have a whole-system view of the community 

There is a broad and very public consensus that health and social care is one such area that would benefit from effective local leadership. Though we do not disagree, as is clear from our report ‘Breaking Barriers: Building a sustainable future for health & social care’ published in June 2016, we also believe that the criminal justice system equally requires urgent and immediate action. 

There is mounting public concern with the return to the prison riots and disruptions of the early 1990s, unprecedented levels of self-harm and suicide and the urgent need to increase staffing numbers and improve training. 

Though the government is working to address these issues, with a funding boost and pledge to recruit 2,500 new prison staff, underlying problems remain. These are problems which cannot be tackled solely at a national level and through a narrow focus on the greater use of custody.

For successful long-term outcomes, the evidence points to the crucial role and impact of targeted early intervention and prevention work carried out when at-risk individuals are young, by the police and children’s services, in schools, with families and through communities. Additionally, it is the work done during and after custody to reintegrate offenders back into the community, to find them a job or profession, a roof over their head and an effective support network that prevents individuals re-entering what is increasingly becoming a revolving door system. 

No silver bullet 

There is no single factor or silver bullet to deliver change and transformation to a criminal justice system which costs the taxpayer £17bn annually, let alone reducing the staggering £124bn estimated annual economic costs of violent crime in the UK. 

However, the impact of crime and reoffending is a local issue. Long-term solutions can only be effectively delivered and overseen at this level. 

These were also the conclusions of our report, ‘Doing it Justice: Breaking Barriers to Criminal Justice Transformation’, in which we identified three main barriers to achieving real transformation for the criminal justice system as: 

  • The need to reduce tensions between central government and local control of services
  • Increasing capacity to drive innovation
  • Ensuring greater integration between criminal justice and other areas of the public sector with the greatest potential to drive long-term change such as education and employment, health and mental health, substance use and welfare 

We also outlined five essential, interdependent building blocks for successful transformation at a local level that include: 

  • Co-commissioning and design of services to drive place-based transformation
  • Co-production to encourage public engagement and new ways of working
  • Creating a life opportunities approach to preventing reoffending based on recognising the life potential of offenders
  • Better use of digital technology and data analysis to support rehabilitation
  • Devolution of leadership and workforce development 

We believe that if newly-elected mayors focus upon these five building blocks and overcoming these three barriers, they will be able to produce real public service transformation that improves local labour markets and improve their communities’ levels of safety and resilience. 

Benefits of a place-based approach 

Early feedback from ‘Doing It Justice’ has shown us that there is broad consensus about the advantages that a place-based approach to the system can bring. This could, and should, include the full and dynamic transfer of both powers and budgets from government to devolved authorities to prioritise the prevention of offending and cutting reoffending rates. 

At our summit, where we launched the report, it was encouraging to hear from outgoing Manchester City Council chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein, who has helped oversee Manchester’s programme of public service reform and economic renewal. He highlighted the opportunities Greater Manchester’s criminal justice devolution deal could deliver for the local economy, regeneration and community resilience. 

Using their unique position and mandate, mayors can summon the effective leadership required to convene leaders from police, prisons and probations. Mayors can bring the Ministry of Justice and Youth Justice Board together with local agencies to ensure a co-ordinated approach delivered at the right level, and provide the necessary support and resources to invest in prevention. 

In Greater Manchester, we have already seen their Public Service Reform Team advance this workstream, by developing a truly pioneering approach to localised criminal justice transformation. We call on Greater Manchester’s new mayor to ensure continuity with the current mayor Tony Lloyd’s approach and to prioritise investment in this area. In other regions, it is essential that newly-elected mayors recognise the importance of the local community and by enlisting their support and understanding, harness their role in championing criminal justice transformation to develop criminal justice workstreams of their own. 

Full devolution not decentralisation needed 

Local areas will need support from central government to integrate criminal justice services, and combined authorities, in this context, must be seen as the natural leaders for driving systemic transformation. 

When viewed through the prism of collaborative working across the health, education, housing and welfare system, the possibilities for public value creation in driving radical change across the criminal justice system represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

We firmly believe that it is at a local level, through devolution, that is the best way to integrate services, which have been co-designed and produced using budgets and powers that have been properly devolved to reduce the human and financial costs of offending.  

But to work, this must be a full-blooded exercise in devolution, involving financial freedoms and powers, to shift the aggregated power of pooled public service budgets to engineer transformational whole-place change. Anything less is mere decentralisation, a helpful step in the right direction, but one that would not do full justice to ensuring the safety of local communities. 

Newly-elected mayors must ensure the current wave of devolution does not become a footnote in history, or otherwise risk not fulfilling their transformation mandate to the people they serve.

For more information

The ‘Doing it Justice: Breaking Barriers to Criminal Justice Transformation’ report can be accessed at:



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