This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tackling harm inequalities: gathering data

The fact that some crimes are more serious than others is enshrined in our justice system: more serious offences carry more serious sentences. The Sentencing Council (formerly the Sentencing Guidelines Council) states:
Each guideline also requires a court to start the sentencing process by assessing the harm caused to the victim. (link here)
My concern is that policing resources may not be deployed proportionately and appropriately to where there is most harm / risk of harm. I have written about this before on several occasions (most recently here). I do not know this to be case, but I have a suspicion that it could be. I have yet to track down any research that would indicate one way or the other. (But if you know of such research - do please say. Thanks.)

Just as there is a growing body of research and policy on tackling health inequalities, there does not seem to be a comparable body of good practice, inquiry or evidence concerning the tackling of 'harm inequalities'. (Unless you know otherwise....)

One of the indivisible principles of our justice system is that every person, no matter who they are, is of equal worth. Therefore if it can be shown that policing and wider criminal justice resources are deployed in such a way as to maintain or increase harm inequalities, this cannot be a just system. We therefore need to know whether there is any unfair deployment of scarce resources and take action accordingly.

I am not yet sure how to do this. I do know that we have had the Black and Acheson reports which exposed health inequalities and offered ways forward on how to tackle them. I would like to call for a similar inquiry into harm inequalities. Addressing this issue has always been important. When resources are more limited, it is far more so.

And so, my plan is to write to every PCC and ask each one (using FoI) a series of questions. This is where I have got to so far in my thinking - but I am very happy for these questions to be refined and added to. (Please add your comments below.)

  • Is harm / risk of harm (from criminal acts or anti social behaviour) a specific factor in how policing resources are shared out across your area? (If yes, how is harm factored into the resource deployment formula?)
  • Is harm / risk of harm specifically mentioned in your new policing and crime plan? (If yes, how and where?)
  • Has there been any research in your police and crime area to identify whether and where overall levels of harm have changed in recent years? (If yes, what conclusions were drawn and what action was taken?)

I am very aware that I have not defined 'harm' as such. For me it is the degree to which a person's (a victim's) capability to feel secure, confident and live an 'ordinary' life has been damaged by a criminal act / anti social behaviour. The more damage and the longer it goes on - the more harm. This definition includes being damaged directly and indirectly (for example where a violent crime happens in a nearby place, then a whole community can be harmed).

Again, I am happy to debate this definition and if there are better definitions out there, I am keen to hear about them.

The theme that underpins all of this is contained in the title of my blog. I want to do all that I can to create a just future - fair for all. This cannot be done without addressing harm inequalities.

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