Publication Digital Justice 29 March, 2018

Crime and information: using data and technology to transform criminal-justice services

Read the full report  

Our report finds that with better access to data on suspects and offenders, police forces, courts and prisons can efficiently administer justice and effectively protect the public and rehabilitate offenders. This paper is sponsored by Sopra Steria.

The Government has big ambitions for police forces to use technology to fight crime. It also aims to deliver digital justice through sharing case files digitally and installing video links to magistrates’ courts. David Gauke used first major speech as Secretary of State for Justice to argue that prisons should act as “a route to a better life” through tailored rehabilitation services.

These are the right ambitions. To deliver them, police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service, courts and prisons need better access to information on suspects and offenders. Poor disclosure of evidence has resulted in trails being abandoned. Information errors have led to 505 prison inmates being released over the decade to 2015. The Government is introducing a Common Platform with a digital case-management system between police forces, the judiciary and courts. This could be expanded across the criminal-justice system to give all service provides access to important information.

With the right IT in place, police forces, courts and prisons can exploit cutting-edge technology to meet rising demand most effectively. Crime is more complex than ever, with over 50 per cent involving an online element. Durham uses an intelligence tool to capture online information automatically and share with courts. Other forces are using smartphones and apps to collect evidence at crime scenes. Larger, digital, evidence files can then be analysed by artificially intelligent software. West Midlands Police has built an “Analytics Lab” to comb large data sets and identify criminal networks.

Sharing these data with courts can speed up the administration of justice. Video links to courts are being delivered in Sussex, potentially reducing the average stay in custody by five hours per defendant. The Government has trialled an online plea submission service, ‘Make a Plea’, which has grown in use eight-fold between 2015 and 2017.

Better data on offenders going into prison can allow for more effective rehabilitation. Prisoners have more complex health and education needs than the general population. Two-thirds abuse drugs and alcohol. Information on needs and best practice, currently poorly shared with prisons, could help governors deliver Gauke’s ambition for prisons to be “places of humanity, hope and aspiration” where prisoners “know there is a route to a better life.” For one offender who had been imprisoned 150 times and displayed anti-social behaviour on the anniversary of his wife’s death, data scientists combined this information with information on different services to successfully provide tailored rehabilitation.

Key takeaways

  • The Government is right to identify an opportunity to make police and criminal-justice services more efficient and effective through employing new technology.
  • Better access to data for police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service, courts, prisons and probation providers is crucial for speeding up services and tailoring rehabilitation to offenders.
  • Green shoots of best practice exist, particularly within police forces. These could be scaled across the England and Wales.
  • Prisons and probation services require better information to protect the public and deliver truly transformative rehabilitation services.