Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Reactions to London Devolution

"Is there anywhere a coherent plan for Probation in England and Wales, or can any mayor / PCC / enthusiast rock up with a random proposal?"
With news that Staffordshire is the latest county where the Police and Crime Commissioner is to take control of the Fire Service, I share the sentiment expressed above. In a supposedly-mature and advanced society like ours, I feel completely at a loss as to how things run anymore and key decisions are made. There doesn't seem to be a coherent plan to anything, but rather a series of back-of-fag-packet ideas, 'hunches' and an 'anything goes' approach to major policy decisions. 

Of course TR itself was conceived in this way and as a result of its spectacular failure we all have to thrash around and try and come up with a 'fix'. So, it is within this context that we learn a cunning plan has been hatched to try and sort things out for London. This is what the Independent has to say about it:-

New powers to fight rise in stabbings and shootings given to London by Government

Rising stabbings and shootings in London will be targeted by a new crime strategy using powers handed from central Government to the capital's mayor. Sadiq Khan’s office, the Ministry of Justice and London Councils have signed a memorandum of understanding on devolved justice powers, which proposes a “secure school” for young offenders and overhaul of failing probation services.

David Gauke, the Justice Secretary, said London faces “unique challenges” while housing almost 20 per cent of all offenders in England and Wales and spending £3.3bn every year on criminal justice. It is right that we work in close partnership with London’s regional authorities to reduce crime, stop people reoffending and look after victims,” he added.

“I envisage this as the first step towards a model where London’s authorities play a much more active role in managing offenders – particularly those who require the most comprehensive support.”

Mr Khan said he wanted to make London safer, reduce reoffending rates and support victims better by joining up local services. “This agreement will ensure that decisions about justice services in London prioritise the interests of Londoners, and it is an important step towards the devolution of powers over criminal justice in our city,” he added.

The initiative was revealed after a bloody week in the capital, where a 26-year-old man was shot dead in the street on Sunday night. Another man, 30, is fighting for his life in hospital after being stabbed in Kennington on Friday, and on Wednesday a man had his watch stolen at gunpoint in Croydon. On Tuesday, a 21-year-old man was stabbed to death in a Stratford shopping centre, hours after a 36-year-old man was fatally assaulted on a bus in New Cross. There were two unrelated murders on the previous day, when another man was killed in Walthamstow and a 48-year-old man was stabbed to death in Southall.

The latest attacks come amid a nationwide rise in violent crime, with knife and gun offences up a fifth in a year, and safety warnings over the part-privatisation of probation services. There were more than 820,000 crimes recorded in London over the last year – 17 per cent of all recorded crime in England and Wales – and a fifth of known offenders (76,000) live in the capital. Despite the scale of demand, the prospects for people going through the criminal justice system are among the worst in the country and the memorandum warned that problems have “become more acute in the wake of the significant budget challenges that all agencies have faced” in recent years.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, said London’s crime wave was being driven by a “core group of young offenders” repeatedly committing assault and robbery “with relative impunity”. Almost half of youth offenders and a third of 18 to 24-year-olds convicted of crimes in London reoffend, with the figure rising to 42 per cent for those having spent time in custody, and the phenomenon is costing £2.2bn a year.

Initiatives will target the “root causes” of crime and address the disproportionate number of victims and offenders from black, Asian and ethnic minority groups. The new strategy aims to protect the public and ensure criminals are properly rehabilitated in order to “break the cycle of crime”. It will review probation services, amid criticism of under-performing Community Rehabilitation Companies, and push to boost confidence in community sentences as an alternative to imprisonment. 

It also aims to improve safety in London prisons, which are overcrowded and have rising rates of violence and self-harm and probe the use of custody for under-18s. The Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime and local councils are researching potential sites for a Secure School for London, which would educate young offenders, and propose the creation of a dedicated “young adult” court.

A new London Justice Devolution Board will lead efforts to join up work by the 14 different national, regional and local organisations currently handling different parts of the fractured system. Other aims include improving the experience for victims and witnesses and reducing the number of women in custody. The Ministry of Justice has also struck devolution deals with authorities in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands, and is considering closer ties with elected Police and Crime Commissioners across the country.


Rob Allen was quick to remind us yesterday of his part in pushing the justice reinvestment agenda outlined in his 2015 report  'Rehabilitation Devolution - how localising justice can reduce crime and imprisonment' for the charity Transform Justice. Of course as he makes clear in his latest blog post, it remains to be seen if what is being proposed for London actually measures up to the principles that lie behind Justice Reinvestment:- 

Is Justice Reinvestment Finally Coming to Town?

For those of us who have spent years promoting the policy of Justice Reinvestment (JR), today’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Ministry of Justice, London Councils and the Mayor is an important moment. It remains to be seen of course whether it leads, as David Gauke told Parliament, to fundamental change in responsibilities for criminal justice and offender management in London. But it certainly promises greater local influence in the capital’s victim and witness services, probation system, electronic monitoring arrangements and justice measures for young adults and women. It goes some way towards meeting one of the three key elements of JR- that is the “devolution of responsibility for criminal justice to a more local level, where a range of relevant organisations can devise the most appropriate approaches to reducing crime, incorporating the views of people most affected by it”.

But what about the other two prerequisites for JR? These are first, an overarching and explicit policy goal of reducing the numbers of people being prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned; and second a method of financing criminal justice institutions and processes which incentivises the transfer of resources away from prison places, and into community based measures for rehabilitating offenders and preventing crime. The MoU takes us less far and more tentatively in these directions.

It’s true that it commits to exploring the scope for greater use of police diversion and credible alternatives to custody for women; and to reducing the numbers of young Londoners from being incarcerated in unsafe or distant institutions. But alongside these lukewarm diversionary ambitions sit proposals for a community prison for women and a secure school for children. The MoU talks about reviewing “the use of custody (both police and secure estate) for young people to develop recommendations to support more effective custodial solutions”. I thought this must be a typo (with a missing non-), but am not so sure.

More positively perhaps, the parties commit to working to explore the feasibility and practicality of justice reinvestment “with the aim of reducing the number of low risk offenders sentenced to custody and enabling the sharing of savings to support better community interventions. This will include a particular focus on female offenders and 18-25 year old offenders”.

The document’s glossary defines JR as “a model where investment is given to a local area in response to a reduction in demand on the offender management / criminal justice system”. It acknowledges the possibility of upfront funding with the ability to claw back payments if demand is not reduced. The MoU incorrectly states that this has not been tested. The Youth Justice Reinvestment Custody Pathfinder which ran from 2011-2013 did just that. While two of the four pilot sites activated a break clause after a year, the two that stayed the course exceeded their targets for reducing the custodial places required for their young people. It worked.

How far this all goes and when will depend on the energy and vision of the London Justice Devolution Board which will drive the agenda forward. The timetable for action is a bit opaque. The first task of the Board “will be to agree a detailed implementation plan to operationalise all of the commitments in this MoU no later than March 2019. The implementation plan will be developed prior to the first London Justice Devolution Board”.

Back in 2015 I recommended that a JR initiative on women “combining up front money and reward payments should be started”. Rather than yet more time exploring, considering and scoping, the partners should crack on with this at the very least.

Rob Allen


  1. This is a fascinating turn. 18-25 group going to YOTs has been kicking around a while. But they choose a time when local authorities have never been so strapped for cash to formally float the idea. 25 year olds attending the same office as 12 year olds to report? Not sure about that! I essentially agree with services being run locally but is this really the best way to it? Particularly given the separation of the service? As always the devil will be in the detail. I just hope it is properly planned and piloted first but I’m not holding my breath.

    1. Annon@ 09:53


    2. Councillors demand answers over 'bizarre' lack of police funding for Newcastle Youth Offending Team

      Police chiefs are being urged to explain why they provide no funding for Newcastle’s youth offending team. Councillors have criticised the ‘bizarre’ lack of funding for the city’s Youth Offending Team Partnership (YOT) from the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner.

      The service is said to be facing major challenges because of its ‘strategic, operational and financial disconnect’ from the police force and a ‘disproportionate reliance’ on council cash and a national Youth Justice Board (YJB) grant.

      The YOT - a partnership between the council, the National Probation Service, Northumbria Police, and Newcastle Gateshead CCG - provides direct intervention to children, young people and families involved in crime and anti-social behaviour in Newcastle.

      Dame Vera Baird, the region’s Police and Crime Commissioner, is now expected to be asked to come before before a council scrutiny committee to explain the decision. Chairing a meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday, opposition leader Coun Anita Lower said that the YOT does vital work with young people entering the criminal justice system. She added: “I think that if you get them early then you have got them for life. If you wait until they are adults then it can be a real problem to sort out.”

      Paul Brownlee, the council’s manager of services to young people, told the committee that the PCC had chosen to focus on other issues and had not made youth offending part of its remit. A report sent to the committee says that continuing austerity measures and a reduction in public sector spending have had a significant impact on the YOT, potentially putting it at a ‘significant disadvantage’.

      It states: “A failure to have an adequately resourced service may translate into significant additional cost pressures for the partnership in future years.” The report adds: “It is vitally important that YOT Partnership Board members contribute to the funding of the YOT is ways which reflect regional and national approaches. Not to do so will place Newcastle YOT at a significant disadvantage and hinder attempts to address the statutory aims of the partnership or meet partner organisation objectives. Given the reduction in central grants and change to national funding formulae maintaining historic funding positions is no longer appropriate for local partners. The strategic, operational and financial disconnect between the YOT Partnership and the Office of the Police Crime and Crime Commissioner is a risk to the delivery of the objectives and statutory aims of the YOT Partnership.”

      The Northumbria PCC’s office has been approached for a comment.

  2. I'm wondering how the youth offending teams are feeling about absorbing the 18 to 25 year olds. Apart from being a very problematic group they're hugely expensive too.
    The homlessness reduction act comes into force next month, and between the lack of benefits available to those aged under 25 and the enormous cost of london rents, greatly increased for emergency or supported accomodation, the budget needs must be eye watering.
    The 18 to 25s must also include a significant proportion of those involved in gang culture, and London has a significant problem gang culture.
    The research needed to keep certain elements apart will be a huge drain on resourced, particularly when you're working with younger offenders who may not yet be identified as being involved with gangs but may in some way be linked by circumstance, family, friends etc.
    Are there legal or moral issues to think about when someone being supervised by the youth offending team, is imprisoned and enters the adult custody estate because they're over 21?
    I know there's been much talk about placing 18 to 21s or 18 to 25s within the young offending programme, but I think talk is all there's been.
    If I worked in the youth offending team in London I'd have a lot of questions to ask, and I'd be pretty apprehensive too.


  3. I'm quite confused. Most Probation clients are under 26. Desistance studies tell us that the rate of offending drops off dramatically after this age. But if these cases go to YOS what does that leave for the CRCs?

    1. Obviously more going on behind closed doors and being kept quiet.
      The biggest complaint by CRCs is they didn't get the numbers they thought they would.
      To be told that those numbers are to be chronically reduced by losing everyone under the age of 26 and there's no threat of legal action or announcements of withdrawing from their contract suggests to me they've been assured they will suffer no financial loss.

  4. No shortage of jobs for London YOT services.


  5. Jesus, what will MOJ come up with next? If it hadn't done so much damage to careers and society this would be amusing. MOJ are so desperate to find some sort of solution to this mess that they will try anything. What will be next I wonder? Perhaps base future delivery models using proven therapeutic methods known to to aid desistance, and we could have standards to ensure consistency of delivery. We could call it 'What Works' and the 'Offender Management Model'.