Review of Cutting Crime and Building Confidence: Empowering Victims and Communities

This emphasises Labour’s need to put victims at the heart of our criminal justice system, and is a call to root the justice system in the community.

Steve McCabe MP (Labour, Birmingham Selly Oak) is the chair of the home affairs select committee; here, he reviews Jacqui Smith and Jenny Chapman’s chapter from The Purple Book

This is a good read which emphasises Labour’s need to put victims at the heart of our criminal justice system. It offers a review of past achievements, a critique of coalition policy, and some useful ideas for the future.  It argues for openness and transparency, common in most public services these days – but strangely absent in the justice scene.

The essential thrust of the piece is a call to root the justice system in the community.

I found their argument for a sentencing framework which puts the victim’s experience first very compelling.

Victims should be allowed a greater say in determining the nature of community sentences and we should move beyond impact statements and give victims a right to make recommendations.

The fact remains that the accused and convicted have rights but victims and witnesses are restricted to well intentioned codes of practice.

The authors note the benefits of civilianisation in freeing officers to tackle crime and police neighbourhoods; government policies are leading to the reverse. They make a strong defence of the Police Pledge which the government has confused with a target and abolished.

Chapman and Smith see the pledge and neighbourhood policing as the cornerstone of community policing and argue good neighbourhood coppers, like classroom teachers, should be rewarded and encouraged to stay in frontline roles.

One of the more striking ideas is a proposal for a Community Crime Fighter Programme with volunteers training and working with the police to protect communities. They also draw upon an example from Houston where the public assist in running community police stations.

This has its risks at a time when Cameron’s Big Society envisages substituting volunteers for trained staff but it is an idea which encourages public involvement. The authors think Labour councils should be willing to experiment.

There also offer some useful thoughts on the role of social media, particularly pertinent given the hysteria on this subject during the riots. They argue it can be a useful way of trading information and that in these cost conscious times councils police could use it as a cheap and effective way of offering reassurance, gathering intelligence and communicating with the public.

On prisons they get to the nub of concerns by making the case we’ve got to get better use of existing prison resources and drastically improve the role and quality of training for prison officers.

They advocate Personal Support Officers as key workers in the rehabilitation of individual inmates, they challenge the failure to modernise the work of prisons and rightly call for prisons and governors to be judged on successful rehabilitation and positive benefits for the community. Prisons need to be accountable for their outcomes, not just their practices, and, in an echo of familiar New Labour arguments, successful prisons should have greater freedom to innovate.

This is a thought provoking article which will provide a useful focus of debate for those CLPs which still like to discuss policy and relate their political arguments to the concerns of ordinary voters.

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