Are we sending too many people to prison?


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The Isle of Man government are revamping the Criminal Justice strategy and they’d like ideas and feedback from the taxpayer.

One objective of the consultation is to see fewer people entering the criminal justice system, reducing the number going through the courts and of re-offending.

Specifically, the Department of Home Affairs is consulting on 3 bills that arose out of the aforementioned Criminal Justice Strategy presented to Tynwald in December 2012. The bills in question are:

Criminal Justice, Police & Courts Bill

Diversion of Offenders and Domestic Abuse Bill

Council of Ministers Bill

Why?

The Government is looking for input from those affected most on key issues of criminal justice. The focus in particular on domestic abuse in one of the three bills needs the input of those affected and in fairness; a theme running through the initial consultation paper is of the importance of inclusion and of seeking feedback from victims.

IoM criminal justice key issues

  • Jurby Prison is full. Whilst it has the capacity for 144 prisoners, this is more realistically 120 factoring in the need for separation.
  • The cross-departmental systems mean gathering stats is extremely difficult. This has meant creating any measurable performance targets has been virtually impossible. With so many agencies in place, it is only the police who regularly collect statistics.
  • The cost to the taxpayer. Each prisoner in Jurby costs approximately £58,000 (as per 2011 stats in Government consultancy paper). That’s literally over 1,933 Freddo Frogs. Oh the humanity!
  • Low-level crime. Somewhat surprisingly, it is not Dickensian petty thievery but minor motoring offences that make up most of these crimes.
  • Systems, processes, and paperwork: One person’s journey through our present Criminal Justice System can produce nearly 100 different forms and their details can be input on up to 22 different systems (as per 2012 consultation paper).
  • Time Wasted: In the IOM the length of time for most serious cases to move from first court hearing through to judgment is 78 weeks. In the UK this, in many cases, has to strictly be 26 weeks
  • Not enough focus on rehabilitation or prevention. If we can prevent reoffending and also work to stop those vulnerable or at risk from entering the Criminal Justice System at all, we would be winning. Like Charlie Sheen minus all the illegal stuff. Ok, not like Charlie Sheen in any way.
  • Lack of budget. We’ve got less cash than a Heather Mills divorcee.

 

How could the IoM criminal justice strategy be improved?

  • Utilise technology to cut out the red tape that stifles processing. Let’s help the admin teams across all government functions. WITH ROBOTS! Or, failing that, cutting edge systems will have to do.
  • Propose a choice of punishment for ‘low-level crime’ – push towards fines or community service for small, first time offences. The hope here is to not exclude first-time offenders from rehabilitation into society and also to reduce prison numbers.
  • Fines for petty crimes should be proportionate with wealth/earnings of the individual. If MC Hammer turns up to court in a solid gold tux, Hammer’s paying up.
  • Community service for white collar or financial crime as opposed to prison sentences. Utilising their skills and experience to the benefit of the government or pro bono assistance to families in need of financial guidance. Like The Blacklist or Catch Me If You Can, basically
  • Gather statistics across all major CJS agencies and hold the formed Criminal Justice Board accountable for implementation and continuous monitoring. Does prison actually curb re-offenders? Research suggests otherwise but there needs to be tangible facts to back this up and allow progressive politics to come into play.
  • A key focus of one of the 3 major bills is quite rightly the issue of Domestic Abuse. This, along with protecting the vulnerable of all ages should be a priority
  • Educate; Teach our children on sex education, on the perils and realities of teenage pregnancy, drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, theft and health, and wellbeing. Also, detailing the ramifications of illegal activity. In tandem with this, laying out pathways to individual prospects of a career in a pupil-focused environment can, one perhaps naively hopes, negate the need for criminal activity and release the valve on this pressure cooker.
  • Improve our local mental health services. The Government Mental Health and Wellbeing plan for 2015-2020 laid out some staggering facts on the ubiquitous presence mental health plays in all of our lives.  1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any year and, pertinently with this subject, 9 out of 10 prisoners have a diagnosable mental health condition or substance abuse problem. (Mental Health and Wellbeing plan 2015-2020)

The reality

Our Chief Constable warned over a year ago that the drastic cuts taken to our frontline services meant our police-force were living a ‘hand to mouth’ existence and whilst the intentions of this reform are admirable, are they realistic? Seeking public input could, in some ways, be merely a desperate wail into the abyss; ‘getting creative’ tends to be a clear signpost to skintville. There is undoubtedly promise in the proposal but just how you accomplish any of this without serious investment is something that remains to be seen.  Not to mention the array of differing factions and departments all seemingly intertwined. This convoluted process does require streamlining but where to start? And, finally, whilst a Criminal Justice board has been formed (comprising the heads of the Criminal Justice agencies and headed up by the CEO of the Department for Home Affairs) how are they accountable? Their own consultancy paper states overtly there is no accountability for the system as a whole. How can this be quantified?

The public consultation closes on 20 August 2018 so get your ideas in as soon as possible and see if you can directly influence change.

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