Lady Justice

Where does civil society fit into Labour’s criminal justice policy?

By Theo Clay 24 July 2023 4 minute read

The clock is ticking. An autumn 2024 election is looking increasingly likely, with the tantalizing possibility of it happening sooner if interest rates don’t come down. As described in a recent blog by Ben Kili, NPC’s Policy and Communications Officer, we and everyone else in the charity sector are working hard to ensure that the parties hear our priorities as they begin to develop their manifestos. The timeline is a little tighter for Labour due to the extra layers of scrutiny (such as the National Policy Forum), and their hopes of capturing media headlines around their conference in Liverpool this year.  

One key battleground at the next election is likely to be crime. Long a strength of the conservatives, Keir Starmer’s background as Director of Public Prosecutions (he may have mentioned it once or twice) mean this is fertile turf for Labour this time around. At NPC we’ve been working for years to outline the unique role civil society can play in tackling crime and reoffending. Recently we highlighted two interventions to the Shadow Justice team, which are impactful, cost-effective and worth implementing if Labour get into government. 

There is a well-worn criticism (likely to induce much eye-rolling in Labour HQ) that Labour lacks a big vision for voters to get behind. The 5 Missions were, to an extent, Labour’s attempt to tackle this. However, a big ideologically driven vision does not seem to be Keir Starmer’s natural inclination for tackling problems. More crucially, Labour strategists seem to think that it’s not what people are interested in right now. The current Labour leadership remember ruefully how people responded to the long list of grand promises in the 2019 Corbyn manifesto and have run in the opposite direction. Instead, they’re focused on tackling individual practical problems that affect swing voters’ lives: NHS waiting lists, bills, antisocial behaviour and mortgage repayments. 

We’ve reflected this in our submissions to the Shadow Justice team, and instead of detailing every way that charities can support tackling crime, we’ve suggested two specific ideas which are practical, cost-effective, and most importantly, rooted in our best understanding of the evidence on reducing reoffending. 

It’s important to note that there are a number of structural adjustments which need to be in place for these suggestions to work over the long-term. We, and many others in the justice system, have been calling for an end to the use of short-term prison sentences, tackling the courts backlog, better use of pre-sentence reports to ensure sentencing tackles the causes of offending, and finally a focus on a preventative approach. We emphasised these points in our submission. 

In this wider context, our first suggestion is focused around embedding youth workers into A&E departments to tackle violence and exploitation. Knife crime rose last year, with a tragic spiral of violence reflected in many major cities in the country. The A&E model, pioneered by charities like Redthread among others, focuses on using the ‘reachable moment,’ when an individual is in hospital after a violent incident, to reflect on the life choices that brought them to that point and suggest an alternative path in future. This approach has shown good early signs of effectiveness when implemented in different parts of the UK, adopting a preventative approach, stopping bigger problems down the line. 

Our second suggestion focuses on support for people leaving prison, to help reduce reoffending. One in four people who leave prison reoffend within a year, and this rises to two thirds for those who have a sentence of less than six months. Ensuring that individuals have the right help immediately before and after they leave prison is crucial to reducing reoffending. We now have years of results from the Justice Data Lab which can point us to effective programmes across the country. NPC’s meta-analysis of the results shows that programmes which include employment support, alongside emotional resilience, can have the best chance of supporting someone to move on with their life. We’ve suggested a model of giving this support to all who meet certain risk characteristics leaving prison in one region of the UK, with the possibility of extending to other areas if successful. 

We’re pleased to see wording which seems to echo both of these ideas reflected in early National Policy Forum documents and the briefing accompanying the crime mission launched by the Labour Party. However, the manifesto is obviously still a long way away and offering an evidence-based policy solution has never been any guarantee that change will happen on the ground. More so than in other areas, the obstacles to improving our justice system tend to be political barriers, including concerns around public opinion, rather than a lack of interesting sounding ideas from think tanks.  

We will, however, continue to push for change in this area, encouraging Labour to take these ideas forward. Meanwhile, we are developing similar ideas for ways charities can support the other four missions. If you’re interested in having a conversation about this, or have an idea you’d like to share, please do get in touch. 


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