The Economic, Social and Political Context of the Local Community Approach to Integrated Offender Management: Theory and Practice, Rhetoric and Reality

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Introduction

Throughout the recent Government Green Paper on punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing (Ministry of Justice, 2010a), significant emphasis is placed on localism. Change to the criminal justice system is to be brought about through devolution. Local people, local managers, professionals and volunteers are to be freed from central government control (ibid: 5), and local services opened up to local scrutiny and made subject to local accountability (ibid: 8). The watchwords are 'joint working' and 'partnership' or, to give the approach to offender rehabilitation its proper title, 'Integrated Offender Management'. There is to be a move away from the domination of the public sector to 'a much broader set of organisations from all sectors' (ibid). Probation, the police, and services provided by local authorities, voluntary partners and the private sector, together, will 'tackle the offenders who cause most harm in their communities' (ibid: 25) and 'prioritise the crime that matters most to local residents' (ibid: 77). To achieve this, rehabilitation services are to be funded to the extent they evidence a reduction in re offending--'Payment by Results'. The proposals have attracted considerable attention. Coalition government ministers have promoted the Green Paper as a 'radical programme of criminal justice reform' (Herbert, 2010) and nothing short of 'a revolution' (Blunt, 2010). Others have professed support for the overall approach and a willingness to get involved (Confederation of British Industry, 2011; Dicker, 2011; Mulheirn et al., 2010; Shelupanov & Ali, 2010), while others have been more sceptical, welcoming the devolution agenda overall but identifying fundamental flaws in how it is to be achieved (Faulkner, 2010), in particular the Payment by Results funding mechanism (Maruna, 2010).

Civic participation

What is the wider economic, social and political context driving this purported transformation in thinking about crime and punishment? In terms of vision and principle, the ambition to put more power in to the hands of local communities has been informed by the overarching theme of 'the Big Society' (Cabinet Office, 2010). Influenced by a new policy project of 'Progressive Conservatism' (see Wind-Cowie, 2010) and the repositioning of the Conservative Party along pragmatic communitarian lines (see Blond, 2010), it has been argued by Conservatives and Liberal Democrats alike that 'fixing Britain's broken society' requires a reaffirmation of communal values. Rejecting the thesis of 'Big Government', the appeal to civic participation is based on the assumption that the centralised welfare state has encouraged 'passive dependence' (ibid: 285), resulting in 'a wholesale collapse in British culture, virtue and belief' (ibid: 1). To rectify this, it is necessary to 'roll back the state' and transfer power from central government to new forms of social and private enterprise, in particular voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations--co-ops, mutuals, neighbourhood groups, churches, charities, families--as well as private business. Overall, the challenge is to make grass roots entrepreneurism mainstream, as it seeks to 'harness in ever more ingenious ways the mechanism of the market in order to do social good' (Singh, 2010: 1).

How is this to be achieved? Much of the thinking resonates closely with emerging perspectives informing the theory and practice of 'new public governance', a central feature of which is much greater interagency cooperation between government departments and the VCS. Accepting that government 'is no longer pre-eminent in public policy'(Osborne, 2010: 6) and that new pluralist complexities of the modern state entail the relinquishing of 'hands on' public management, the Green Paper advocates reducing 'the burdens on local partners--such as excessive performance targets or overly bureaucratic inspection regimes' (Ministry of Justice, 2010a: 82). …