Senior, Paul, Hine, Jean, British Journal of Community Justice
Our programme of fundamental reform will result in a revolution in rehabilitation that will reduce reoffending. We will ensure that those who break the law are punished. But by helping offenders get off drugs, move into work, and manage mental illness we will see fewer of them slipping back into lives of crime. Prisons will be places where meaningful work and opportunities to reform are the expectation for prisoners, not a matter of choice. (Clarke, 2011, MoJ Business Plan 2011-2015)
The publication of the Green Paper Breaking the Cycle in 2010 gave substance to the new coalition government's aspirations to take a radical approach to dealing with crime and became the catalyst of this special issue of the Journal. De Montfort and Sheffield Hallam Universities have established reputations in the field of community justice, a wide range of staff based in their respective centres of community and criminal justice and academic and practice expertise in many aspects of the criminal justice system. Staff were invited to reflect on the green paper and its proposed 'Rehabilitation Revolution' in the light of their own research and prepare papers from these reflections that would encourage informed debate about the subject. All papers have been doubly peer reviewed and, together, present thoughtful insights into some of the questions and issues that the government's proposals raise. The response we received was excellent and we have made this a double issue in our ninth year of publication. Since these papers were commissioned, there has been something of a political backlash to some of the key ideas presented by the Minister of Justice, Kenneth Clarke. In particular, the proposals to reduce the prison population fell on stony ground and were modified under pressure from the prime minster and the cabinet. This has had an impact on the funding of criminal justice, which was already facing a 24% cut by 2015. To achieve this saving, a redistribution of the burden has occurred, putting further pressure on the community agencies to deliver more for less. Payment by Results, heralded in the Green Paper, has become a central plank of this agenda and is touched on by some of the articles, though its ramifications remain, at the time of writing, an idea whose approach is still to be evaluated and tested, though this has not stopped the government in proclaiming its nationwide implementation across the system by 2015--another example of policy-based evidence rather than evidence-based policy.
As this issue was going to press, England experienced riots at levels which had not been seen since 1985. Explanations are still being constructed but these events are bound to impact on the 'rehabilitation revolution'. Deterrent prison sentences have already been seen, resulting in a rise in the prison population to a new peak, putting further pressure on resources. The rhetoric of ministers has already ushered in a toughening of attitudes. This is the ever-changing backcloth around which this double issue appears and which may, in itself, threaten some of the more positive ideas emerging from the original Green Paper.
Running through all the nine papers is this theme of cutbacks and economic constraint, the context within which the policy has been framed and the key reason behind many of the proposed changes. A central tenet is devolving justice to the local level with greater involvement of local communities in the administration and support of criminal justice processes, which government has dubbed the 'Big Society'. This is a key theme addressed by many of the papers in this issue. They address, too, the notion of community justice, what this means and what is required for it to emerge and develop. This is a debate which has been central to the journal's history since its inception. Community justice is essentially about local communities taking responsibility and authority for decisions about, and delivery of, criminal justice in their locality; a set of ideas of much greater longevity than the latest 'Big Society' sound bite. …