The Irish criminal justice sector is facing some of the biggest challenges in its history. One of the more significant of these is unprecedented cost pressures. This challenge also presents significant opportunities if we are prepared to grasp them.
The new multi-annual expenditure framework allows for transparency about the allocations available to each department over the coming three-year period. The justice group of votes faces a reduction of £63 million next year and £115 million the following year.
Under the current organisation of the system, each individual organisation must seek to optimise delivery within the constraints of its own budget and its own mandate. While there have been heroic reforming efforts within each organisation, in many cases they have gone as far as they can go. Individual organisations have slashed non-pay expenditure, frozen recruitment and cut back on overtime. To meet the demand for a further 8 per cent cut across the sector will require some transformative thinking.
A more integrated systems-thinking approach
It is time to step back and take a systems-thinking approach which focuses on getting the most from the interactions between the different players. We need to move away from the traditional siloed approach to criminal justice towards a more integrated system. Criminal justice is dealt with by a range of players: the police, prisons, court, probation etc. This is entirely appropriate. It ensures that these agencies and players are independent of each other and that necessary safeguards are in place in order to deliver on overall responsibilities to society, victims and offenders. However this separation often leads to inefficiencies and friction in the interface between each of the players.
Greater integration could be realised through a transformative centralised reform programme, potentially run by the Department of Justice and Equality. In fact, there are already some encouraging first steps. Good examples include GRACE (Garda Response to a Changing Environment), a programme led by An Garda Síochána which involved a comprehensive review of all areas of expenditure and, critically, engaged with an advisory forum of stakeholders from Central Government, Irish Prison Service and the Courts Service. In addition, the Working Group on Efficiency Measures in the Circuit and District Court, led by the Department of Justice, is working to get different groups to collaborate to eradicate unnecessary delays and costs. Another example is the Probation Service and the Gardai working on SORAM (Sex Offender Risk Assessment and Management.
While each cog in the criminal justice sector works well independently, anecdotal evidence shows that friction exists when these cogs connect. This is particularly evident in terms of reverse flows e.g. if a prisoner is placed on remand and is moved from the Courts Service back to An Garda Síochána. Various steps in the criminal justice chain see a huge volume of repetitions. The UK Home Office has set out some bold ambitions around reducing these frictions and we should seize the current opportunity to do the same.
Recidivism is a problem which needs to be solved. In Britain, 47 per cent of offenders went on to re-offend between 2009 and 2010, and Ireland’s rate was 49.2 per cent in 2006. The key is to stop an individual entering the criminal justice system in the first place as recidivism is difficult to reverse. Front-line policing, community awareness schemes and targeted education in vulnerable areas are critical but are not just the responsibility of the An Garda Síochána. They are the responsibility of the whole of Central Government starting with education, health, social protection and the local authorities.
Such focused criminal justice operations require significant investment and intelligence therefore it is becoming more evident that we need to invest in outcome-based measurement across the whole public service system. Interaction with education, health and social protection agencies will also require knowledge and data sharing systems.
A fresh perspective to how services can be delivered with fewer resources should be encouraged. It’s not just about sharing resources and consolidating them; it’s about fundamentally redesigning the services we deliver starting with the outcomes we want as a society and allowing for what we can afford. Ireland’s prisons are overcrowded with 400 inmates who are serving sentences of between one and eight years to be placed on temporary release each year (from 2012 to 2015). It is significantly more cost-effective for the State to deal with a prisoner through the Probation Service than in the Prison Service.
Other government initiatives to reduce prison numbers include the Fines Act 2010, with provisions aiming to keep fine defaulters out of prison. The Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011 requires judges, when considering imposing a sentence of imprisonment of 12 months or less, to first consider the appropriateness of community service as an alternative. On-the-spot fines, adult cautions, warnings and awareness campaigns are other possible deterrents.
Restorative justice programmes are also to be welcomed. Re-socialisation and rehabilitation through inter-agency programmes with the Probation Service, the Department of Social Protection, local authorities and the health services are important. However, in the current environment, it requires robust challenge to ensure that these are not seen as the ‘soft’ option in making cuts.
Innovative thinking is required across all of the challenges faced by the sector. While innovation can be technology related, often, some of the ideas are more prosaic. The recent implementation of new rosters in An Garda Síochána or the PASO grade in the Irish Prison Service are examples of bold new thinking and new approaches which deliver significantly better outcomes.
Notwithstanding some good examples, a lot of innovative change will require investment and even in these straitened times we need to consider where best to place our investment bets. Greater mobile tasking and a common data model for criminal justice are two crucial technological advances. Mobile tasking would see the provision of technology into the hands of front-line police and probation officers and to Courts Service officials. In Canada and New Zealand, police officers tend to work remotely, without any need to go to a police station.
They rely heavily on their mobile technology and have greater engagement with the community as they spend all of their time ‘out and about’.
Another challenge is the need for a common data model for criminal justice. Allowing agencies to operate their own systems but creating easier flows of data that more closely reconcile to the real life flows of people – offenders, victims and resources – would be foundational change.
Criminal justice is a core service of the State to its citizens. In the same way as people expect their children to have an education and have their parents looked after in hospital, they expect to feel safe on the streets. While the challenge is stark, the sector is experiencing a milestone moment in terms of its development. It should seize this opportunity to create a common transformation plan to move forward, ensuring we deliver a system that is fit for purpose into the future.
To discuss any of the viewpoints raised above or how your team, department or agency is planning for the future, contact David McGee
Phone: +353 (0)1 792 8785