On 7 March the National Audit Office published its ‘landscape review’ of the changes that have been implemented to the criminal justice system over the past months.
The Criminal Justice System: Landscape Review examines whether current reforms of the criminal justice system are addressing the issues identified by the spending watchdog in past studies on, for example, the prison estate, police technology, bought-in services and financial management.
It draws on NAO value-for-money studies and audits of financial statements and documentary evidence in the public domain to highlight the many challenges to an efficient system.
In a statement the NAO says: “Major changes are being made to the criminal justice system at the same time as significant reductions in resources. At the end of March 2013, for example, the number of police officers was some 127,000 – or 10% lower than three years earlier.”
A two-year programme of reform was set out in the White Paper Transforming the CJS, which was published last summer. The changes include reforming the prison estate by closing old and inefficient prisons, such as Reading Prison (pictured), while investing in modern prison accommodation, and the establishment of the Criminal Justice Board. A minister has also been appointed with responsibility for Policing and Criminal Justice.
The reforms have been intended to address many of the systemic problems by understanding the causes. In particular, says the report, efforts are being made to reduce the demand in the system by tackling those offenders with the highest rates of reoffending and improve the use of new technology for sharing information between partners. The NAO, however, says it is too early, however to comment on whether they will be effective.
“There remains, however,” it says in its statement, “much to be done to tackle inefficiency and reduce the multiple points of failure within the system. Potential initiatives include replacing the manual transfer of data with well-designed digital transfers between agencies; and developing a strategic approach to improving the collection rate of fines and confiscation orders, both to offset running costs and to demonstrate that crime does not pay.”
The review concludes that the effects of multiple, concurrent changes are difficult to model but are likely to be significant. Although organisational changes can be implemented relatively quickly, implementing deeper changes to working practices, system developments and cultures will take months and years.
In addition, if the system is to achieve real efficiencies and planned cost savings, then departments, agencies and local criminal justice partners need to implement as a priority an agreed and coherent plan to address problems with the flow of information.