17 May 2021

Powering prevention through collaboration & technology

Guest blog: Brendan Swarbrick, Executive Client Director – Ministry of Justice & Home Office at Sopra Steria as part of our #DigitalJustice2021 week

Impact of crime

The impact of crime reverberates across the whole of society. It could be a victim who is physically hurt due to an assault, a community scared to leave their property after dark due to anti-social behaviour, or a business owner unable to make a living due to thefts from a shop. With the undoubted economic challenges we are going to be faced with post COVID-19 the £59 billion cost of crime figure published by the Home Office also can’t be ignored. The criminal justice system exists to addresses the consequences of criminal behaviour in society but is that the right focus?

Prevention is preferable

There is nothing new about the concept that prevention is better than cure. Today we are living through one of the starkest examples in a generation that demonstrates the importance of prevention. Vaccination to prevent COVID-19 is clearly preferable than dealing with the resulting illness.

In the justice context, prevention is also considered as far more beneficial than dealing with the consequences of criminality and crime after the event. Tackling the upstream causes of crime however is an extremely complex issue involving social factors and vulnerabilities such as inequality, poverty, parental neglect, alcohol and drug abuse. Through its engagement with lived experience forum members the Revolving Door Agency use the excellent metaphor of ‘a knot’ to describe the complex and interconnectedness of these issues.

Coming back to the economics of crime, according to a report from the Ministry of Justice it costs the UK taxpayer over £44,000 a year on average just to keep someone in prison for a year. Consider this against a starting salary for a police constable, according to the Police Federation, of £26,199.

The reoffending challenge

There has rightly been a focus in recent years on rehabilitation of offenders in the justice system, the rationale for this is obvious, the most prolific offender is the reoffender. Nearly half of all adults reoffend within one year of release, this figure increases to 77% for children who have served short sentences of under 12 months according to a report produced by Prison Reform Trust.

Many people consider the role of prevention is about stopping individuals entering the criminal justice system however it’s clear that preventing reoffending is equally important.

The case for collaboration & technology innovation

Preventing crime requires collective action, it can’t be tackled by government alone it needs a more joined up approach across central government, police, schools, local authorities, NHS, private sector, charities and other organisations. The issues surrounding crime are so intertwined that it is unrealistic to think fixing any individual issue alone will result in a long term improved outcome so a more whole of system approach involving a collaboration of agencies is more likely to be able to undo the knot of issues.

Technology alone won’t prevent crime but it is a valuable tool that can be employed to help improve crime prevention.  Robot police may sound far-fetched but they are already a reality in Dubai and China helping improve front line policing and crime prevention. AI is also a tool that has the potential to transform prevention. There is a saying that what is predictable is preventable, so having the ability to quickly sift large quantities of data to identify patterns and make rapid decisions based on the data will be hugely relevant.

Case study – The Ben Kinsella Trust

The Ben Kinsella Trust, is a leading anti-knife crime charity formed after the senseless killing of 16 year old Ben Kinsella in 2008. The trust educates young people on the dangers of knife crime and helps them to make positive choices to stay safe.

Using workshops to follow the journey of both the victim and the offender through a series of unique and immersive experiences to show young people how choices and consequences are intrinsically linked.

The trust already had strong links with schools, local authorities, police and other organisations. In 2019 the Ben Kinsella Trust and Sopra Steria formed a partnership with the aim of using technology innovation to help tackle knife crime.

One of the initiatives that we have piloted is a Virtual Reality interactive experience that allows young people to safely experience a challenging scenario involving peer pressure and understand the consequences of carry a knife in a safe environment.

Sopra Steria have also implemented a digital survey tool to capture and report on outcomes from the exhibition and helped the improve and extend the trusts social media engagement.

Georgina Henley

Georgina Henley

Head of Justice and Emergency Services, techUK

Jago Corry

Programme Assistant, Markets and International Trade, techUK

Robert Walker

Robert Walker

Programme Manager, Health and Social Care & Justice and Emergency Services, techUK

Georgina Maratheftis

Georgina Maratheftis

Associate Director, Local Public Services, techUK

Raya Tsolova

Programme Manager, National Security, techUK