How do you find out about something when you don’t know it’s there? How do you fill an information gap when you don’t know there is a gap in the information you have? These are issues that seem as old as the hills but, by starting to map innovation across the justice system, we are trying to make steps to increase the flow of information around the system. Yes, our map is only a start, it is partial (and it is absolutely incomplete) but it is a start.
In looking at what we have mapped so far, three themes emerge strongly. The first is that many of the innovations are working with service users with complex needs, who arrive into the justice system with difficult and overlapping social justice needs. Over half of the 33 case studies we have complied focused exclusively on either vulnerable young people, vulnerable women or individuals with mental health issues.
The second theme is a direct response to the complexity of the individuals that are being worked with. In general, the innovations we have mapped share similar characteristics. Many of the innovations acknowledge that the formal and traditional justice system default of ‘catch, convict and punish’ are simply making outcomes worse (and at a futile waste of increasingly precious resources). They are often collaborative involving partnerships between many different services including the NHS, voluntary sector, specialist services and statutory services. They are often problem-solving, attempting to provide wrap-around support, as best as they can, to tackle underlying causes of offending. They also tend to seek to intervene further upstream, looking to deploy interventions earlier to stem increasing interaction with the criminal justice system than would otherwise be the case.
The third theme is that many of the projects have been driven up from the ground and by dedicated and passionate individuals or teams. That in itself is not surprising. However, what is interesting is that the context in which those innovative individuals and teams have been able to thrive is one that is very local and contingent. In general, we found that it is the police that are at the forefront of initiating innovative practice, with many practices being led by police officers or with heavy involvement from police forces. In addition, Police and Crime Commissioners are setting an ‘innovative environment’ locally, whether through direct funding, leadership or combinations of tacit and overt public support. This drive for local solutions, stemming from their local democratic mandate, seems particularly important and was and is a specific argument for ensuring that policing is essentially locally provided and locally accountable.
The local nature of the innovation we found means that, in general, national Government department involvement has been slim. In some places, the provision of funds through
innovation funds has been important, but, generally, these innovations have tended to only require a distant policy nod from national Ministries (if that). The lack of central government presence can be perceived as both a positive and a negative. While some practitioners see that it would be beneficial to have a national system for knowledge sharing and mainstreaming practice, the lack of central involvement has emboldened practitioners’ ability to be creative and responsive at a local level to the issues that different areas find particularly noteworthy.
As we have said repeatedly, what we have been able to map so far is only a start. But we look forward to learning more.