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Criminal justice devolution plans for London announced

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A fundamental change to London’s criminal justice system, involving the devolution of powers and the introduction of specialist services for young offenders and women, has been announced by the justice secretary.

David Gauke announced today he had signed a “justice devolution memorandum of understanding” with London Councils and the London mayor’s office for policing and crime (MOPAC) in a written statement.

Mr Gauke said: “This agreement will fundamentally change the way the criminal justice and offender management systems interact with local partners in London.”

According to the MoU, the government aims to increase local influence on the criminal justice system, especially with regards victims and witness services, probation services, electronic tagging, and young offenders’ services.

The MoU between the three organisations also announces a new review of existing community sentencing options in London to “identify the reasons for [its] declining use”.

“The Mayor [Sadiq Khan (Lab)] is committed to reviewing the use of community sentences in London to ensure that the right interventions are available to sentencers to reduce the risk of reoffending,” the MoU reads.

There is no current government position on the efficacy of community sentencing, as the Ministry of Justice has not been able to measure long-term effects. An MoJ paper on measuring reoffending rates described the task as “difficult”.

“Official records are taken from either the police or courts, but they will underestimate the true level of reoffending because only a proportion of crime is detected and sanctioned and not all crimes and sanctions are recorded on one central system,” the MoJ said in the report.

Mr Gauke’s statement also cited an intention to “incentivise greater investment in preventative services” to reduce demand on the criminal justice system.

“We are seeking, in the longer term, to foster a whole-system approach to offender management where powers, resources and decisions are better aligned and early intervention and prevention is incentivised,” Mr Gauke said.

The agreement over justice devolution is also in line with MP David Lammy’s (Lab) recommendations in his 2017 review of racial bias in the justice system. Mr Lammy found that young black people are three times more likely to be arrested and nine times more likely to be jailed than white people in England and Wales, according to Ministry of Justice statistics.

Responding to today’s announcement Mr Lammy said: “We must bring justice closer to communities and build trust in our criminal justice system. I welcome the focus on addressing BAME disproportionality across the system.

“If we are going to deal with this problem then we must look to devolve control over our criminal justice system, rehabilitation and probation services and ensure that our justice system is rooted in the communities it serves.”

The MoU with the Mayor of London and London Councils repeatedly states its aim to reduce reoffending rates, which consultancy firm McKinsey said amounted to £2.2bn a year in criminal justice costs. A 2016 MOPAC report found that London’s youth reoffending rate alone ran at 43.2%.

Mr Gauke said: “London accounts for almost 20% of offenders and re-offenders, at 76,000 and 19,000 respectively, and has a prison population accounting for a similar proportion but which is spread across 40 institutions nationally.”

To counter re-offending rates, the three co-signers aim to publish a joint review of London’s probation services and “robust community sentence options”. The key objectives of the MoU are also to be monitored by a newly created “London Justice Devolution Board”, with membership yet to be determined. However, the MoU sets out that members should include London’s deputy mayor for policing, the MoJ’s director general for justice and rehabilitation, MOPAC’s chief executive, a “senior London local government representative”, and London Councils’ portfolio holder for crime and public protection.

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