We were privileged to co-host a session on the police engagement twitter channel #WeCops for a night on the 27th of April, to get a better understandings of how front line officers feel about out of court disposals (OoCDs).
Out of court disposals are an important tool that have been used in England and Wales for decades, allowing the police to deal promptly with low-level offending without recourse to the courts, and freeing up officer time to tackle more serious crime. The newly passed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act brings the introduction a new ‘two tier’ out of court disposal framework for adults nearer. At the Centre, we are helping forces to implement this new framework, using the evidence on what works and promoting the sharing of good practice at every turn.
The twitter chat was guest hosted by Jason Kew, the Centre’s Senior Innovative Practice Officer, and formerly a serving Chief Inspector with Thames Valley Violence Reduction Unit, as lead for Drugs and Harm Reduction Innovation, and Duncan Lugton, our Head of Policy and Public Affairs.
This blog draws together some of the main messages from the wide-ranging and insightful discussion.
Out of court disposals were overwhelmingly recognised as reducing the amount of people entering the criminal justice system, with benefits including better outcomes for victims, the community and people who have committed an offence, and easing the workload of frontline police officers.
Resources, training and time were identified as essential foundations to making diversion a success. Many were in agreement that diversion works when there is sufficient time to implement it and embed it in the police force, and amongst local services. One person expressed frustration over initiatives ending just when officers had gotten to grips with delivering it.
Good quality, face to face training was also recognised as crucial to delivering effective diversion and OoCDs, which strengthens the knowledge of operational teams, officers and senior officers, particularly around what interventions and outcomes are available, and how to make referrals.
Two police forces shared how they have developed online resources to address issues around sufficient training. Hampshire Constabulary use a tool called the ‘outcome buddy’, consisting of a detailed flow chart that guides officers on when a Community Resolution and Conditional Caution can be used, and what conditions could be suitable. This is intended to take the confusion and guess work out of utilising tools such as the gravity score matrix. Similarly, Thames Valley have produced bite size videos to explain OoCDs, and the available options to frontline officers, which can be easily accessed using a mobile phone.
In addition to practical training, another crucial factor for successful diversion is securing buy in from criminal justice decision makers and police colleagues. Several people drew attention to how it is essential to raise awareness amongst officers of the significant benefits of properly delivered OoCDs and diversion, to foster the understanding that it is a truly effective alternative to a court outcome, and not a ‘soft’ option. This is particularly crucial for diversion, as it is a non-statutory intervention that relies on referrals made by frontline officers. This issue was raised in an interview the Centre conducted with Dr Ashley Kilgallon, the former project manager of Turning Point, who explained that she found the most effective approach to getting officers onside with diversion was to keep discussion simple, jargon free and precise.
The new ‘two-tier’ framework was seen to be an opportunity for more structure and standardisation for delivering out of court disposals. One person shared how they felt that disposal outcomes could be officer dependant. For example, some officers were seen to be up-tariffing individuals to more serious criminal outcomes when there was a perceived lack of interest. In our evidence and practice briefing on making effective referrals into youth diversion, we raised the importance of implementing effective checks and balances to ensure that referral decisions are robust, and that discretion is not improperly used.
Concerns around up-tariffing people were also raised in relation to a lack of viable options to refer people into, as a result of a postcode lottery of each area’s available diversion scheme, Liaison and Diversion and support services.
There was agreement that a good framework would explicitly outline when an OoCD is suitable, and when it is not, so they can be consistently applied. The new OoCD framework was felt to provide an opportunity to enact this standardisation of processes and achieve consistency within each local force, but also nationwide. One person believed that a standardised OoCD framework could increase the likelihood of compliance with associated orders, as it would mean that individuals would not be required to travel to the area they offended in to attend a course or receive support.
The role of technology was also discussed, with online programmes such as Making Time Count seen as a potential approach to facilitating this important consistency in OoCD's and outcomes, and mitigating unintentional up-tariffing.
Some useful examples of good diversion practice came out of the discussion:
- Restorative justice is an effective intervention, that should be used more as an OoCD outcome. This was a popular opinion, which drew on research indicating the benefits for the victim, such as obtaining justice and facing the person who caused them harm, as well the person who committed the offence, in helping them come to terms with the impact of their crime. One person clarified that even where there isn’t a clear victim, for example around drug possession charges, drug awareness courses based on restorative principles can be effective and explore who may have been impacted.
- Diversion schemes must allow people more than more opportunity to participate and the chance to try it again. We agree that this is an important for diversion schemes to allow people to be diverted more than once, where appropriate, rather than operating a strict ‘one and done’ policy, which we explained in our evidence and practice briefing on what makes a good eligibility criteria.
- Project CARA, a scheme for low risk domestic abuse cases, was praised to be a good example of a successful diversion scheme. Find out more about how it operates from our case study.