Data must be central to improving the criminal justice system
Better use of information is crucial to improving people’s experiences with justice agencies and reducing recidivism, according to Georgie Henley of techUK
Credit: Raysonho/Public domain
The vision for the Ministry of Justice is to deliver a world-class justice system that works for everyone in society. With the release of the MoJ Digital Strategy 2025, there is a vision for the user experience of justice to be simpler, faster and better for everyone.
For techUK’s Digital Justice Working group, data sits right at the heart of this vision.
Significant efforts have been made to digitise services, with change happening at pace due to Covid-19 – but there is still a long way to go, with a need for improved collaborative working between Justice partners and the technology sector in order to make fundamental changes in areas where the pandemic has exposed a need.
Our report – Digitising Justice: putting data at the centre – highlights how the effective use of data and technology can support a seamless citizen experience across the criminal justice landscape.
The criminal justice system is complex, with the user interacting with multiple agencies following an arrest; this may cover court services, the prison system and probation services. There is a need to streamline this process to better support the user, from breaking down siloed working internally in order to understand the way data travels through the justice system, to sharing data externally with the third sector, local authorities, health and education bodies.
With prison leavers entering a post-Covid world – where almost all workplaces now require the use of digital devices in some form – there is a need to equip prisoners with the tools they need inside the prison walls so they can leave the prison gates job-ready.
There is a drive across the board to tackle high reoffending rates and data and technology can play a key role in reducing recidivism by supporting the user on their journey through the criminal justice system.
For example, two simple, yet highly effective, deployments include the introduction of videoconferencing and the rollout of in-cell technology which gives prisoners autonomy and control of their rehabilitation journey from remaining in contact with loved ones to enrolling in education programmes. There has been significant progress, but there are still many prisons awaiting the rollout of these services.
There is also a growing skills gap in the UK, and Covid-19 has heightened this with greater reliance on digital devices, particularly during lockdown. With prison leavers entering a post-Covid world – where almost all workplaces now require the use of digital devices in some form – there is a need to equip prisoners with the tools they need inside the prison walls so they can leave the prison gates job-ready.
However, digital skills are not just important for prison leavers, but also for staff. The pandemic has shown that digitisation is no longer just about IT. It is about empowering people and equipping them with the digital skills they need to deliver the best service, whilst also creating a culture and environment where technology and innovation can flourish.
Past the prison gates
As we look past the prison gates, and how to best support prison leavers, having access to the right data and drivers to prevent the ‘revolving door’ scenario is key. Agencies need to ask the right questions: do we capture the right information early enough to be able to detect or understand the drivers of re-offending? And how can we use data to identify individuals at the earliest possible opportunity?
For example, resettlement passports are referenced via the Prisons Strategy White Paper and could be used to improve through the gate preparation. The education aspects of technology, and the ability to communicate with supportive agencies play an important role in supporting individuals as they leave prison. Identifying and understanding data flow and data sharing across the criminal justice system can ensure more effective support for both prisoners and prison leavers as they reintegrate into society. These passports would allow for all important information – education history, healthcare – to be stored in one place which is easily accessible and easily shared across support agencies.
Whilst technology is a valuable tool and it can, without a doubt, support the government’s ambition to reduce reoffending rates, by itself it will not prevent or reduce crime. Prevention requires collective action and agencies must come together to tackle reoffending. We must also be mindful of the impact any new technology will bring for that individual and the service they are delivering or receiving.
Data and technology have the power to transform services across the criminal justice system and put the user at the centre, so long as the technology introduced is implemented as a response to a particular challenge, it meets the needs of the user, and the user understands the opportunities and limitations of that digital tool.
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