We spoke with Peter Neyroud, former police officer for 30 years and lecturer in evidenced based policing about lessons from pre-arrest diversion and what he sees in the future for improving the evidence base.
Tell us about Turning Point?
Turning Point, originally called Damocles, was piloted in Birmingham in 2012. In order to be eligible for the pilot, we used a “no more than one pre conviction” plus a test of “offence will not result in prison”, based on the sentencing guidelines as a substitute for the “low harm” offender test. This was included in the triage tool that we used to check eligibility for the trial and randomise offenders to Turning Point or Prosecution. We found that there was a large proportion of the offender population who present as no further risk of serious harm and could be cautioned or given a No further action so logically they were the best group to divert. We thought how could we create a model that diverts the large majority of offenders who are low risk/harm, that could also be acceptable to a public that can be sceptical about cautioning? That is how we got to Turning Point. Turning Point provided officers with the opportunity to use discretion, be creative and actually make a difference with an offender rather than feeling your constraint was doing something that your judgement told you was not effective i.e. charge and bail. We wanted to create a conversation in which the offender owned their offence and owned the conditions that might provide them with the opportunity to no longer offend.
What were you most surprised to find?
In the current policing model people who do not admit guilt have no access to cautioning and therefore they are going to court earlier. We questioned why we need people to admit guilt, does this make any difference to whether a person will work on their offending behaviour? We did not have an answer because it had not been tested but we did know that by having a requirement to admit guilt, we are likely creating a disproportionate effect on young black men and people from poor backgrounds. Our pilot found significant findings on reducing reoffending in ethnicity, being particularly effective for young black males than for white males. We shared our findings with David Lammy, unsure if our findings would replicate with another cohort, and we are working with the Metropolitan police who are testing with a replication of Turning Point in North London. If the replication supports our earlier findings, it would be a significant moment for the criminal system
What lessons have you learned in adult diversion?
In 2002, while I was Chief Constable of Thames Valley and the ACPO lead (Association of Chief Police Officers, now called the National Police Chiefs' Council) on out of court disposals, we developed adult conditional cautioning. Unfortunately, it failed because we did not respect the detail of implementing cautioning. There was a large amount of paperwork that officers did not want to complete and we needed to invest in the treatments but did not know what good treatments looked like. Lessons of implementation - never assume that what is happening on the ground is what you think is happening. Implementing new practice requires you to design it fundamentally with police constables, sergeants and inspectors in mind otherwise it will not be a success. We had created conditional cautioning with three or four pilot sites without randomised control trials (RCTs). As a result, we never learnt the lessons of what worked and just as important, what did not. RCTs uniquely force you to design the intervention carefully and test it in a real environment with a stable comparison, which allows you to understand the effectiveness, the operation and the costs.
What are your thoughts on the two tier framework?
In principle, the new legislation that will reduce the number of out of court disposals from seven different varieties is probably a good thing. However, losing the simple caution maybe a policy mistake - the great advantage of the simple caution was the that it was cheap, instant and it was doing exactly what it says on the tin which is: if you do this again you are likely to get prosecuted. The diversionary and community caution has a level of complexity that requires; a Code of Practice (COP) that is practical and does not have heavy constraints on police forces and on funding for conditions from Police and Crime Commissioners’ (PCCs). If there is no requirement to fund and PCCs do not see this model as a worthwhile investment, this framework will struggle to take off. The type of rehabilitate work that supports the two tier model, requires funding the PCCs hold. Once the Sentencing Bill has gone through and the COP is being developed, they need to consider a RCT of the model they have put in place, before it goes fully live. The COP in its final form ought to be informed by testing on the ground first. If the government is not prepared to do this, this framework will have a similar fate as conditional cautioning, where new legislation was created but there was no practical way to implement it.
The Chance to Change pilot for deferred prosecution is well on its way, I am supporting Superintendent Katie Harber in evaluating the pilot. I am currently overseeing the work of my students who are analysing projects such as Project ADDER, which is a drug diversion pilot in Sussex. Also, I have been supporting the analysis of Thames Valley’s drug diversion scheme and their implementation of the two tier framework. The international evidence base for adult diversion is growing. There is an increasing demand for better evidence and together with two colleagues, we are about to publish an overview of the latest position in the Handbook of Criminal Justice Reform – it will be an updated article on what we know about diversion as a method of criminal justice reform.