Data must be at the heart of improving the criminal justice system

Credit: Raysonho/Public Domain

The Department of Justice’s vision is to provide a world-class justice system that works for everyone in society. With the release of the MoJ 2025 Digital Strategy, there is a vision for the justice user experience to be simpler, faster and better for everyone.

For techUK’s Digital Justice Task Force, data is at the heart of this vision.

Significant efforts have been made to digitize services, with rapid changes due to Covid-19 – but there is still a long way to go, with a need for improved collaboration between justice partners and the sector technology to bring about fundamental change in areas where the pandemic has revealed a need.

Our report – Digitizing justice: putting data at the center – highlights how the effective use of data and technology can support a seamless citizen experience across the criminal justice landscape.

The criminal justice system is complex, with the user interacting with multiple agencies after an arrest; this may cover judicial services, the prison system and probation services. This process needs to be streamlined to better support the user, from breaking down work barriers internally to understand the flow of data through the judicial system, to sharing data externally with the third sector, local authorities, health and education organizations.

As people leaving prison enter a post-Covid world – where nearly every workplace now requires the use of digital devices in one form or another – there is a need to equip inmates with the tools they need. need inside the prison walls so they can leave work at the prison gates- ready.

There is a general drive to tackle high recidivism rates and data and technology can play a key role in reducing recidivism by helping the user through their journey through the criminal justice system.

For example, two simple, yet highly effective deployments include the introduction of videoconferencing and the deployment of in-cell technology that gives inmates autonomy and control over their rehabilitation journey, from contact with loved ones to enrollment in educational programs. Significant progress has been made, but many prisons are still awaiting the deployment of these services.

There is also a growing skills gap in the UK, and Covid-19 has accentuated this with greater reliance on digital devices, particularly during lockdown. As people leaving prison enter a post-Covid world – where nearly every workplace now requires the use of digital devices in one form or another – there is a need to equip inmates with the tools they need. need inside the prison walls so they can leave work at the prison gates- ready.

However, digital skills are not only important for those leaving prison, but also for staff. The pandemic has shown that digitization is no longer just about IT. It’s about empowering people and equipping them with the digital skills they need to deliver the best service, while creating a culture and environment where technology and innovation can flourish.

Passed the prison gates
As we look beyond the prison gates and how best to support those released from prison, having access to the right data and the right drivers is critical to preventing the ‘revolving door’ scenario. Agencies need to ask the right questions: are we collecting the right information early enough to be able to detect or understand the drivers of recidivism? And how can we use the data to identify individuals as early as possible?

For example, Resettlement Passports are referenced through the Prisons Strategy White Paper and could be used to improve gate readiness. The educational aspects of technology and the ability to communicate with support agencies play an important role in supporting individuals upon release from prison. Identifying and understanding data flows and data sharing across the criminal justice system can ensure more effective support for inmates and those released from prison as they reintegrate into society. These passports would store all important information – education history, health care – in one place that is easily accessible and easily shared between support agencies.

While technology is a valuable tool and can undoubtedly support the government’s ambition to reduce recidivism rates, it will not prevent or reduce crime on its own. Prevention requires collective action and agencies must come together to fight recidivism. We also need to be aware of the impact any new technology will have on that person and the service they are providing or receiving.

Data and technology have the power to transform services across the criminal justice system and put the user at the center, as long as the technology introduced is implemented in response to a particular challenge, that it addresses to the needs of the user and that the user understands the opportunities and the limits of this digital tool.

The full report from techUK – Digitizing justice: putting data at the center – can be read here