Author: Kathryn Hirst
Last week I experienced a totally different side of the criminal justice system. It was a moving and inspiring experience.
It’s reassuring to know that there is a better side and there are successes in what we all agree is a failing system not least after Covid.
What I played a very small part in last week was an example of how the various agencies involved in crime prevention and reduction can work together to bring about real change. The government would do well to properly fund and support this scheme if it is to succeed across the country because the potential is simply huge. So far funding is in place for only five courts across the country. The government could and should be doing far more to roll this out nationwide.
“Jake” my client is one of those people who are easy to like, charming and roguish, he is also impulsive and gives little thought to the feelings of others. He was a serial burglar. I hope that description remains in the past tense. He had committed dozens of burglaries in the Herts and N London area. He often stole cars from the houses and the last burglary he committed that ended with him being remanded in custody involved a high speed chase by police in one such stolen car. The police knew him well and he was suspected of having committed dozens of burglaries due to his M.O. but they rarely had enough evidence against him to charge. His was a not untypical story of family dysfunction and lost opportunities; he was doomed to a future of revolving door justice, of increasingly long sentences until either he decided he had had enough or he got involved in something more serious.
That was so until the C2 project that is run in Hertfordshire as a collaboration between the courts, police and probation service. This is a pilot scheme started a few years ago called Choices and Consequences, C2 for short. St Albans Crown Court is the venue and the judge responsible HHJ Grey is utterly committed to this scheme.
The scheme is intensive. The failure rate is high and the demands made on the participants are heavy. It is a real alternative to prison and when it works it reduces crime and puts those involved in crime on a different path. It works as a deferred sentence. During the deferment period the offender works with the police to identify other offences they have committed (TICs), lives where directed, tagged and curfewed, engages with probation in discussing offending and other behaviours, is abstinent from drugs and faces random drug tests.
Jake did really well over the months of deferment, despite the delays and additional stress imposed on him by Covid. He eventually managed to find himself accommodation. He was motivated to leave the hostel where he was placed but rather than rebel against it he found a way to persuade everyone he could be trusted to live independently so found a room to rent in a shared house. He found work and realised he could build a career if he got some qualifications. The point is that the offender needs to put in the work. It is about change. The title of the program Choices and Consequences is meant to reflect that. Prison is nothing like this in terms of responsibility and engagement.
Were it possible to roll this out across the whole country it could lead to a totally different way of thinking about crime prevention and punishment. The upfront cost involves proper staffing, funding and monitoring. It means police officers will think very differently and more creatively about their role in the criminal justice system and probation officers get to work in a far more interventionist way than they have been able to do for many years. And if the result are borne out the sense of achievement for these professionals is huge. But the long terms benefits are obvious to everyone: rehabilitation and crime reduction.
After Jake’s final sentencing hearing both prosecution counsel, myself, probation, police and even some of the other defendants also going through the C2 scheme gathered around him (in a socially distanced way) to congratulate him. Both prosecution counsel and I were sure it must have been the little bit of dust in the air that made our eyes water. We all felt moved to have played even a tiny part in this process.
Jake still has a long way to go. Who knows how he will progress and whether long term it will stick but for now he has goals and plans that don’t involve breaking into people’s houses. That can only be a good thing.
Here’s a link to the website for the scheme: https://www.herts.police.uk/Information-and-services/About-us/C2-Programme