What did the budget say about criminal justice?

Work with Offenders looks at the details of Rishi Sunak’s first budget

The Chancellor of the Exchequer tends to talk about all the positive measures in his speech to the House of Commons and then the Treasury publishes the “Red Book” for the financial experts to pore over at their leisure.

The bald figures are encouraging; the Ministry of Justice’s overall resource budget (excluding depreciation) will be £8.3 billion in the coming financial year, £500 million more than last year. The Department’s capital budget also shows an increase from £500 million last year to £700 million in the financial year starting in April.

Other measures included in the official documentation include:

  • An extra £15 million to improve services to victims intended to boost the support available to victims of rape and create a new digital hub to make the criminal justice process in England and Wales easier to understand.
  • There’s also an additional £5 million to pilot a trial of domestic abuse courts, allowing criminal and family matters to be considered together.
  • There’s an extra £10 million for innovative approaches to prevent domestic abuse, working with Police and Crime Commissioners to expand projects like the “Drive” prevention programme.
  • There is also £5 million for the Youth Endowment Fund to support the creation of a Centre of Excellence for Tackling Youth Violence, the point of which is to create a single evidence hub on what works to divert young people away from criminal activity and improve the effectiveness of wider investments in crime reduction, including the work of the Youth Endowment Fund and violence reduction units.
  • The Budget also provided £68.5 million to toughen community sentences. The only detail on how this money will be spent in the Red Book is a reference to increasing the number of offenders who are required to wear an electronic tag.

However, leaks in the media in the days preceding the budget suggested that much of this money would also be spent on increasing the amount of Unpaid Work that offenders on community sentences are required to perform and to roll out the new “sobriety tags”. These last are used as part of Alcohol Absence Monitoring Requirements, normally for a period of approximately three months for offenders who are not dependent on alcohol or whose offending is deemed to be linked to their alcohol consumption. It is interesting that the Government has decided to roll out AAMRs nationally, despite the current lack of evidence as to whether they are effective in reducing reoffending.

There are a number of other Government justice-focused spending decisions listed in the Red Book:

  • The Government has committed to provide an additional hundred £56 million in the coming financial year to tackle prison maintenance issues, “helping to maintain prison operating capacity and improve conditions for those living and working in prisons”.
  • A further £3 million is earmarked to launch a Royal Commission on the Criminal Justice process in England and Wales.
  • Finally, there is an announcement that the government intends to introduce an Economic Crime Levy to be paid by firms subject to the money-laundering regulations to help fund new government action to tackle money-laundering. These reforms are intended to help safeguard the UK’s global reputation as a safe and transparent place to conduct business. There will be a consultation on the levy published later this spring.

It’s heartening to see an increase in public expenditure in the justice sector, now we must wait and see whether the new funding helps address the long-standing problems in our prisons and probation services.