Editorial

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Safer Communities

ISSN: 1757-8043

Article publication date: 15 July 2011

Citation

Bateman, T. and Fox, C. (2011), "Editorial", Safer Communities, Vol. 10 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/sc.2011.56010caa.002

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Editorial

Article Type: Editorial From: Safer Communities, Volume 10, Issue 3

As we go to press, the coalition government has confirmed the general trajectory of criminal justice policy under its administration. On 21 June 2011, it issued its response to the consultation exercise on the green paper Breaking the Cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders, originally published in December 2010 (Ministry of Justice, 2011). To a large extent, the response is a reaffirmation of the concrete proposals in the earlier paper, yet there is a discernible change in tone. Whereas the green paper was widely understood as setting out a policy aimed at easing the financial burden of the criminal justice system through – in part – a contraction in the use of custody, the government now contends that it is “not aiming to reduce the prison population” (Ministry of Justice, 2011), nor will it “push for community sentences to be used instead of prison” (Ministry of Justice, 2011).

While the implications of this shift remain uncertain, the government’s legislative programme is considerably clearer. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill was published on the same day as the response to consultation. Part 1 of the Bill deals with legal aid and is designed primarily to reduce costs. In this context, it proposes abolishing the current automatic right to free legal representation of those detained in police custody whose availability will henceforth be determined on a case by case basis according to the financial means of the individual and by reference to criteria set out in regulation by the Lord Chancellor. In relation to sentencing, among other provisions, the Bill proposes to increase the maximum hours per day that an offender can be subject to a curfew requirement – either as a condition of a youth rehabilitation order, a community order or a suspended sentence – from 12 to 16 – and to extend the maximum duration of such requirements from six to 12 months. It also extends the maximum period of imprisonment that can be suspended from one to two years.

Despite the government’s contention that there is no intent to reduce the prison population, the amendments in relation to the grant of bail appear to be directed towards restricting the circumstances in which bail is denied. It does so by removing the power of courts – in the case of adult defendants only – to refuse bail where there is there is no real prospect of a custodial sentence in the event of conviction.

In a separate development, the Home Office (2011) is consulting on a range of statutory replacements for the existing raft of measures to combat anti-social behaviour. An important element in the review of the existing “toolkit” is the repeal of the anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) and its replacement with two orders, the criminal behaviour order and crime prevention injunction (functionally equivalent to the existing ASBO on conviction, and ASBO on application, respectively). These would differ primarily from the current arrangements in that they would allow the court to impose positive requirements as well as proscriptions.

The broad range of proposals will no doubt stimulate further debate in the pages of this journal, but they also constitute the backdrop for the concerns of the authors in the current issue. Anna Souhami for instance reflects on the role of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, drawing on a one-year ethnographic study based inside the organisation. Her analysis is presented in the context of the government’s declared intent to abolish the Board as part of its commitment to decentralise decision making to local areas and to absorb central functions – such as the allocation of places within the secure estate – within the Ministry of Justice. The paper provides an opportunity to consider what might be lost or gained from that organisational change.

Anna Souhami argues that the Youth Justice Board has been an inherently ambiguous organisation, leading to a confusion of identity and purpose both within the agency and when viewed from outside. Particularly, significant has been the extent to which the Board is an arm of central government or has operated independently of it, facilitating a critical engagement of experts and seconded practitioners in the development of youth justice policy. In reality, the relationship between the Board and government has shifted over time, becoming increasingly tenuous as the organisation increased in size and developed its own culture, leading to tensions over a number of policy issues, particularly those relating to anti-social behaviour. On the one hand, this delicate balance allowed the Board to achieve a greater influence with a broader range of constituencies than would otherwise have been possible. So increasingly, it developed a “hands on” relationship with youth offending teams that became as significant as its monitoring and advisory functions. At the same time, the organisation’s ambiguous identity and blurred function has made it harder to assess its achievements, a weakness that has potentially undermined the case that the Board should be retained.

Chris Fox, Kevin Albertson, Mark Ellison and Tom Martin by contrast, address the broader context in which the government’s reforms will play out. They consider the likely implications of the recession for crime trends, an issue which has garnered considerable media attention with the release by the metropolitan police of figures showing that while violent offending in London has fallen over the past 12 months, residential burglary within the capital has risen by 18.5 per cent over the course of the year (BBC, 2011). The authors provide an extensive review of the literature exploring the relationship between the economy and offending, drawing attention to the complexity of predicting the latter on the basis of the former. They note that commentators have signally failed to explain the falls in crime experienced by most Western countries since the mid 1990s and that economic factors are likely to have a differential impact on different forms of offending and on the extent of victimisation among different demographic populations. They conclude, nonetheless, that the evidence appears to support a link between relative poverty and offending and that in due course one might anticipate the state of the economy to manifest itself in increases in criminal activity. While their specific focus is Greater Manchester, the analysis will be relevant to all those engaged at a local level in developing responses to crime and other forms of anti-social behaviour.

Leanne Monchuk explores the contribution that environmental design can make in reducing the level of crime at that local level. While the Code for Sustainable Homes requires developers to consider ecological and environmental factors, she argues that designing out crime and designing in prevention are frequently not regarded as priorities despite the potential for such considerations to enhance significantly the quality of life for residents. Monchuck suggests that to maximise the impact of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) requires that it is embedded early in the process. However, while each police force has an architectural liaison officer (ALO), there is no statutory obligation on developers to consult with the police: many ALOs express frustration that they are not involved sufficiently early. The article describes an attempt to address that issue in Greater Manchester where the requirement under section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 – that each local authority considers the impact on crime of the exercise of its functions – underpins a programme to integrate CPTED at the pre-planning stage. The initiative requires that any major planning application must be accompanied by a crime impact statement prepared by a design consultancy located within the Greater Manchester Police Service. The scheme is being evaluated and will be reported on in due course. Indicative findings, however, suggest that centralisation of the service has led to a potential overreliance on official crime data and that insufficient attention has hitherto been paid to monitoring outcomes beyond the planning stage. Nonetheless, requiring developers to submit a crime impact statement has successfully ensured a consistent approach to embedding crime prevention at the design stage.

Such early planning is also a prerequisite, David Barrett argues, of addressing some of the threats associated with hosting the Olympic Games in 2012. Barrett acknowledges that winning the Games for London is widely regarded as bringing significant – economic and other – benefits to the capital and the rest of the country but he also highlights some of the challenges posed for crime prevention agencies and those responsible for security. His paper considers the relationship between the extensive escalation in tourism, which the Games will generate and the opportunities for increased levels of offending against the person. The event will also inevitably foster a range of “administrative” crimes, including the fraudulent production of tickets and ticket touting. Experience from previous Games suggests that amplified criminal activity might also encompass trafficking – both for sexual purposes and as a source of cheap, illegal, labour – and other forms of serious organised crime. The risk of terrorist activity – with the Games providing an “attractive” high profile target – is real and has been acknowledged in the National Security Strategy. Barrett outlines some of the thinking that has already gone into ensuring that such threats are minimised but argues that drawing on the experience of countries that have previously hosted such events can provide invaluable lessons.

Tim Bateman, Chris Fox

References

BBC (2011), “Sir Paul Stephenson ‘concerned’ by London burglary rise”, BBC News, 29 June 2011, available at: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-13956104

Home Office (2011), More Effective Responses to Anti-social Behaviour, Home Office, London

Ministry of Justice (2011), Breaking the Cycle: Government Response, The Stationery Office, London