Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Breaking down the barriers – which way forward for criminal justice?

April 13, 2017

Where next for criminal reform?

It’s a big question, and one that think-tank Reform tackled recently at its excellent annual criminal justice conference.

As Reform pointed out, the release of the Prison Safety and Reform proposals document just four months after the new administration arrived in office, demonstrates the importance it places on creating a more efficient justice system. Everyone involved in criminal justice agrees that the service must work more cohesively, from arrest to release, and this can only be achieved by breaking down the silos that separate each part of the process.

In reality, public services still lag behind in technology usage and capability, and the criminal justice system is particularly fragmented. Back in 2015, Lord Leveson pointed out that “the criminal justice system is not, in reality, a single system”, but rather a series of separate structures with their own processes and priorities. This lack of connectivity makes it frustratingly difficult to deliver positive outcomes for victim or offender.

Collaboration across police, CPS, courts, prisons, probation services, etc. will require agreed data principles, interoperable IT systems and common processes. The next challenge is working out how to achieve this, but the clear will and drive to put in place these principles, platforms and processes was clearly spelt out by the speakers throughout the conference.

Breaking down the barriers

The first session focused on integrating police, CPS, courts and prison systems. Katy Bourne, Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner, explained how her force is using technology to publish information online, making it more accessible to the public. Sussex is using digital in many ways, including connecting vulnerable witnesses and officers by video to court to deliver vital evidence. It is one of the lead forces in this space, working closely with Kent Police and the wider eastern region to develop processes with the CPS and the courts that help make Video Enabled Justice a reality.

BT’s Vice President Central Government and Police, Jason Hall, stressed the role of technology vendors in making the Common Platform a reality and in ensuring vital information held in legacy systems is safely retained. And in a session on the role of the prison service, Jerry Petherick of G4S observed that the prisons built now will still be around in the 22nd century, so their technology infrastructure will be just as important as the physical buildings themselves in creating successful custodial environments.

During his keynote speech, Justin Russell, Director General, Prisons, Offender and Youth Justice Policy, highlighted the need to work with external agencies including charities, and stressed the importance of the Common Platform in delivering swift, secure data transfer across different services.

Achieving the vision

Of course, agreeing that we need an integrated justice system is easy. But with all 43 police forces in England and Wales, the CPS, HMCTS and NOMS managing their own IT estates, combined with a prevailing reliance on paper-based processes across many of these organisations, making this happen will be extremely complex challenge.

However, digitisation can break down those barriers. The NPCC Policing Vision states that by no later than 2025, information held by the police will be shared electronically with the criminal justice system, and Cisco is already helping make this a reality. Our networks and security platforms are supporting secure connectivity between the majority of the Police Forces, the CPS and the MOJ in the UK, and we will continue to support the move to a Digital Network Architecture (DNA) which meets the needs of a 21st century end to end digital justice system.

From arrest to release – it’s a long road for any offender, and connecting each step along the way will be a challenging journey for the criminal justice service. But as Cisco is helping demonstrate, digital justice is possible and could play a major role in criminal reform.

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