The recent terror attack in London and other parts of the world once again brought attention to the challenges facing policing and the Criminal Justice Sector (CJS). It also renewed the debate on whether cuts to the police budget have compromised public safety.
The debate over whether police spending lowers crime is an old one and while well-controlled studies do show a causal link, the challenges facing the CJS are not going to be solved simply through increases in police expenditure.
While there is some evidence that numbers are falling for some crime categories, the distribution of crime exhibits more complex patterns and the threat of terrorist networks requires us to reconceptualise the way we think about an organisation. The new face of terrorism mirrors in some ways the changing face of crime-transcending spatial boundaries and requiring cross-border co-operation between CJS agencies as never before. Against such a need, the wave of nationalism and political leaders coming to power on an insular agenda makes it even more difficult for CJS partners across nations to work co-operatively.
This difficult climate has however fostered a closer relationship between academia and CJS partners. Both the cuts in CJS budgets and the need to tackle the changing nature of crime has led to innovative partnerships.
The Centre for Crime, Justice and Policing at the University of Birmingham, which has just marked its one year anniversary by holding a one-day conference, is one such attempt to develop cross-disciplinary practitioner-informed research and impact.
Combining a broad skill set, the Centre is engaged with the police and diverse CJS stakeholders to engage with the most challenging problems in the sector. Some of the current problems the members of the Centre are working on include areas such as rehabilitation, pathways to crime and prioritisation.
Crime is socially costly, as is punishing the criminal. Yet, rehabilitation has been criticised as being ineffective and reducing generalised deterrence. However, there is some evidence from meta-studies that targeting the ‘right’ people for rehabilitation as well as the type of rehabilitation programme determines its success. A current research project in the centre tries to understand whether mandatory or voluntary rehabilitation is more effective by modelling the life cycle of criminal behaviour and seeing how it is modified by different types of rehabilitative regimes.
It is recognised that adverse childhood experiences negatively impact wellbeing but can also be indicators of future criminality. Yet, we do not really understand the causal mechanism behind this association and the evidence around early intervention is also patchy. Members of the centre are involved in two related strands of research. One strand looks at the mechanism that can lead those with adverse childhood experiences into future criminality. Another strand provides support and evaluation to a neighbouring police force on an innovative initiative to pro-actively target such people and provide them with support that may help them stay away from a path of crime. This involves a multidisciplinary team from Social Policy, Public Health, Economics and Psychology.
One way to allocate scarce police resources is to target criminals who cause the greatest harm, or who commit multiple offences. Further, one can focus police investigative resources on crimes that are most likely to be solved, freeing up resources to support victims of crimes where an offender is unlikely to be detected. Research studies are being conducted within the Centre to inform all three of these approaches to suspect or offence prioritisation and involve collaborations between Psychology, Economics and Computer Science, to name a few.
These cases illustrate how disciplines can work together and actively engage with practitioners to come up with innovative solutions to the problems of the criminal justice system. Such engagement also acts as a unifying voice towards creating a culture of evidence-based policy making.