Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the findings of the Checkpoint programme, run by Durham Constabulary, to reduce reoffending rates and custodial sentences.
My Lords, since today’s list was issued, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge and Lord Mackay of Clashfern, have withdrawn from this debate. Therefore, the time limit for Back-Benchers speaking will now be three minutes, not two minutes.
My Lords, the Checkpoint programme is a multi-agency pre-court diversion scheme used by Durham Constabulary for adult offenders who have committed what is termed “low-level crime”. It was introduced in 2015 and initially funded by the Home Office innovation fund. It is a four-month programme which aims to tackle underlying causes of offending behaviour such as drug and alcohol misuse and mental health issues. It takes the form of a contract which has several conditions—the most obvious being not to reoffend—but it also has a restorative justice element, should the victim require it, and a community service condition for the offender to recognise the wider impact of their behaviour. Completion of the programme under close supervision of a designated navigator normally results in no conviction. A key strength of the programme is that it requires no plea or admission of guilt, so treatment and rehabilitation can begin immediately, rather than being subject to long delays before the case comes to court.
Early indications show that over 90% of those who agree to the four-month scheme complete it successfully. Initial analysis by Cambridge University, published in the journal Policing, found that those who took part in the scheme had lower reoffending rates—13.3% less in a sample cohort of offenders. Further analysis and results are due to be published in May. The initial findings of Checkpoint are consistent with a similar scheme, Operation Turning Point, run by West Midlands Police between 2011 and 2014. The results are also consistent with the reduction in reoffending rates observed as a result of the four-hour national speed awareness course that over a million offenders take each year as an alternative to a fine and points on their licence. The costs of operating the scheme are estimated at £480,000 per year and internal estimates suggest that, for every 1,000 offenders, it saves at least £2 million in reduced crime. So far, 2,660 offenders have taken part in the scheme in Durham and Darlington. I am grateful to Stephanie Kilili, policy officer in the office of the Durham police, crime and victims’ commissioner, for her helpful briefing on the operation of the scheme.
There are, rightly, several questions which need to be addressed about how any programme of this nature might work. Chief among these is: “How does it impact the victim?” A key function of our criminal justice system is to maintain public confidence by justice being seen to be done and wrongdoing being seen to be punished. Included in the excellent House of Lords briefing for this debate is a quote from Professor Lawrence Sherman of the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University, which points out that victim satisfaction increased from 50% to 75% within the programme cohort because
“the focus was on preventing reoffending rather than vengeance”.
Another survey, undertaken by the Centre for Justice Innovation, saw victim satisfaction increase by 43%.
The basic mission of the police service has not changed since 1829, when Sir Robert Peel declared it to be
“to prevent crime and disorder”.
Speaking to police chiefs yesterday, the Home Secretary said that the task of the police service was to produce
“less crime, safer streets and no excuses”.
I agree. Less crime means fewer victims of crime, and fewer criminals means less cost. If schemes such as Checkpoint reduce crime, increase victim satisfaction and reduce costs, why are they not operating in all 43 constabularies in England and Wales? It may be because they require an up-front cost from police budgets, funded through the Home Office, with many of the interventions being from the health and social care budget, while the major benefits of cases not going to trial and potentially resulting in custodial sentences will be found in the budgets of the CPS, courts and Prison and Probation Service, funded by the Ministry of Justice.
I have a number of questions for my noble and learned friend Lord Keen, who I am delighted to see is responding to this debate. First, while I recognise and welcome the increase in budgets announced for the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, how might such costs and complex benefits be recognised across multiple departmental budgets? Secondly, would he be willing to facilitate a briefing by officials from the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Department of Health and Social Care for interested Peers, on how they evaluate the effectiveness of such schemes and allocate resources to them? Thirdly, if pre-court diversion schemes such as Checkpoint and out-of-court disposals are, on this evidence, the most effective ways of reducing reoffending, does he accept that all the available evidence also shows that short-term custodial sentences of less than six months are the worst, especially in the case of female offenders? Finally, would he be open to extending the reach of such schemes to young offenders? Will these matters be within scope of the remit of the forthcoming royal commission on the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice process?
Such schemes have a wider societal benefit which goes beyond calculations of cost and benefit analysis. Through an offender’s facing up to their wrongdoing and the harm caused to their victim, and showing remorse, society is offering them a second chance—a chance to mend their ways and avoid a criminal record, a possible custodial sentence and all that it incurs. I am inspired by those victims who, despite their suffering, found their satisfaction increased, not diminished, by a focus on preventing reoffending rather than vengeance. I believe in a criminal justice system which is tempered by mercy, and which holds out the possibility of redemption. I believe that justice and society are not weakened but strengthened by mercy for, in showing mercy, we also acknowledge with humility the very thin line of chance and circumstance which often separates us from those whom we might otherwise harshly judge. In the words of Shakespeare:
“The quality of mercy … is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
In that spirit, I gladly put what is left of my remaining allotted time at the disposal of the wealth of knowledge and expertise among noble Lords who are about to follow, and I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bates, who was a Member of Parliament in the same region as me, although he did not come from Durham—just near Durham. I want to intervene in this debate largely to recognise what Durham did, but I do that from the perspective of someone who, for a long time, has worked particularly with women to keep them outside the criminal justice system, and with schemes that really will reduce reoffending. We, as a society, do not deal with those who have offended very effectively. Even if we think they should be punished, it needs to be in a way that means they are less likely to cause harm to themselves and others when they come out of prison. We do not do that, and we are very bad at doing that. Reoffending is a real problem: we have a higher rate than many other western countries and we really need to do something about it.
I think I am the only person down to intervene in this debate who is from Durham, so I wanted to say a little bit about the Durham-specific position. Its police force is the only one in the country that has just had its third outstanding rating from the police inspectorate. One of the reasons it was able to be a driver in this programme was because it had the confidence that it was doing the basics well in the county. When I was at the other end, a lot of my constituents would come in to complain about crime, but the county had less crime than virtually anywhere else in the country. Ironically, I lived in Crook, but we had less crime than the rest of the county, so we were not doing badly as an ex coal- mining community.
The other reason was because of the inspirational leadership at the top of the force. We had Mike Barton, who was an exceptional chief constable. I got to know him when he was deputy chief constable. He rescued a village in my constituency that had become subject to one particular family terrorising everybody. He became chief constable and Ron Hogg became PCC. Ron had previously been a policeman, which gave me a few anxieties in terms of his new role, but he was superb. Tragically, he died last year, very quickly after having motor neurone disease diagnosed. The chief constable said at his funeral that it was his leadership, bravery and commitment to innovation that allowed this scheme to go forward. That is what we need in the rest of the country.
My Lords, I too would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bates, not least for his important mention of mercy, which is so important to me in my Christian faith. I too would like to commend the work of the Checkpoint programme, especially on behalf of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham, who also wanted to pay tribute to Ron Hogg—so it is good to have heard that.
There are pockets of good practice across the country. The important question is: what is the Ministry of Justice doing to support and replicate them? The Nelson Trust, of which I am president, has liaison and diversion keyworkers who meet with women in police custody with the aim of diverting them away from the criminal justice system at the earliest opportunity. They also deliver a women-specific point of arrest referral scheme with Avon and Somerset Constabulary, which has supported over 500 women in just two years. The women’s centre is key to this preventive work, so I ask the Government what they are doing to support diversion and alternatives to custody for women, as promised in the Female Offender Strategy?
My Lords, I spent a great deal of what I used to regard as my middle age, and now regard as my youth, addressing the problem of keeping children out of crime. I am delighted to support and applaud the Checkpoint scheme and many like it which address the problem of people who have become criminals. It has seemed to me increasingly lunatic throughout my career that we spend so much on that and relatively so little on stopping people becoming criminals, which is far cheaper and more effective.
Of young people, I will say one or two things. First, most of them come into the world imbued with huge enthusiasm, energy and inquisitiveness that need to be channelled and directed. If they are not and find no release of their own, the young people turn to desperate actions, from stealing cars and driving away, to burglary or arson—you name it—or something else for a kick and a thrill. The channelling idea of this energy was highlighted in my career when I was commanding a Territorial Army squadron and two rather nondescript youths came into the drill hall, plainly bent on having a good laugh and disturbing things. We actually got them interested, and within two years they were the two best junior NCOs that I had ever had—because we got that energy, this vital quality that practically every human being has which can be used to make them creative, beneficial and lovely people.
The second thing that was brought home to me was during my middle years as a Minister when I spent six months in the Department of Health. I was introduced to a scheme in which children who had been convicted of crimes were referred to an Outward Bound course, where they were under the care of an adult on a ratio of one adult to two children all the waking hours of every day for a considerable period. It became abundantly clear that a considerable number of those children had encountered on that course for the first time in their 15 years or more of life an adult who actually cared about what happened to them, day by day and in the end. In other words, they were starved of love.
It is an elementary fact of human nature. My friend the right reverend Prelate will confirm that the essence of creation is love. We are too hesitant to talk about it, because the word has so many different meanings, but good parental and spiritual love is the essence of good behaviour. Without it, people fail to mature into the people they are meant to be. With it, they flourish, they do not commit crimes and we save a huge amount of money thereby.
My Lords, I also am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for securing this debate, and I gratefully receive his offer of some time. I am also from Durham—at least, long ago, I was for seven years the incumbent of St Nicholas Church. One day, the Bishop of Durham invited me to serve as part-time prison chaplain at Durham prison and Low Newton prison. Low Newton is very special. It is a few miles to the north of Durham. It was a demanding assignment, for one day a week for seven years, working with more than 120 young men aged under 21 and some 30 to 35 women in the women’s section. It brought home to me the wonderful work done by prison officers and other groups, such as teachers, probation officers and prison chaplains. That experience left me with great admiration for the people who served the prisoners I worked with, but, I am sad to say, with a very low expectation of the value that prison itself gives to those who end up there. Very little redemption can go on there. So it is with great pleasure that I welcome this initiative, which gives people an opportunity to break free from a life of crime.
It is very odd that this debate has followed a Statement on rough sleepers, as that is how many prisoners often end up. Checkpoint offers great hope and is something that we in the House of Lords ought to applaud and encourage. However, it is far from an easy option in its demands on those entering the programme to address root causes, and in offering hope. This initiative, together with the parallel scheme offered by David Lammy MP to help black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, has a huge potential to turn lives around. Do the Government intend to encourage other police constabularies to take on similar initiatives?
One aspect that I would certainly like to emphasise in my remaining seconds that comes out in the Checkpoint programme is the very strong social bonds that often inhibit but might also promote good outcomes if harnessed properly. This is a critical factor in the desistence element that the Checkpoint framework offers. The organisers recognise accurately that the programme offers co-operation with families, good friends and the wider community to offer hope to others. A question therefore arises: how might the wider community be of assistance in the reform of individuals who desire to change their lives?
My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the preceding speakers, who are all so knowledgeable about this subject, and I also endorse what has been said already as to the achievement of the noble Lord, Lord Bates, in securing this debate.
For me personally, this debate raises issues which cast in proportion the remarks which were made in a Sunday newspaper last weekend, which I read when I had the good fortune to be sitting on a Caribbean beach. I think we do not realise that the way we operate so often causes us to focus on the negative because we start off every day by asking questions, and you do not ask questions about things going well. What is important about this debate is that we are focusing on something which goes well.
I am glad to see here our newest Member of the House, who made a maiden speech when I was not here recently but which I have read. She will be very conscious of that point, because she has as great a knowledge of the working of the criminal justice system as anybody I know. Of course I refer to my fellow Cross-Bencher, my noble and learned friend Lady Hallett, who is here with me today. She would know how finding the positive things and making them work is so important and how sad it is that, again and again, useful initiatives do not result in long-term ends.
Octogenarians can have a very valuable service to perform—and I claim to do this today—because they have seen and heard it all before, and they have the long experience of what could work. This is not exploited in the way that it should be exploited so as to prevent the need to return again and again. I say that on the basis of the report I did into the prison riots, which were held a long time ago now, and on the basis of the speech I gave on the 25th anniversary of my report into those matters.
One thing that I hope will happen today as a result of this debate is that this excellent initiative, which has been shown to have so many important qualities, is taken up and embedded. If we cannot manage big reforms, let us focus on many little reforms and achieve a good result as a whole.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Bates on introducing this QSD. I agree with everything he said, and I look forward to the answers from my noble and learned friend the Minister. I also agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, about his points on positivity, and I can assure him that I have read his report very carefully.
Your Lordships will recall that I recently proposed to the House that we have a new sentence available to the courts of being “Detained for Training” at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Like both Checkpoint and Turning Point, my proposal contains a strong element of training designed to address the offending behaviour and act as an alternative to short prison sentences that all noble Lords know—and agree, I believe—are ineffective. My proposal is very much as a part of the criminal justice system, but these two approaches are absolutely complementary and would work together. The whole point of Checkpoint is to keep young people out of the criminal justice system and therefore I very strongly support it.
My understanding is that, very cleverly, Checkpoint is not too intensive, as this would be counterproductive and make matters worse rather than better. The architects of these schemes are to be congratulated.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for this debate. Because of the short time limit, my speech will mostly be a set of questions to the Minister.
I am not sure whether the Minister is aware of a new strand of police research called evidence-based policing—EBP for short—the brainchild of Professor Larry Sherman, who was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bates, at the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge. Is he aware of the Cambridge Centre for Evidence-Based Policing? I draw attention to my registered interests, because I lecture on its behalf here and abroad.
Evidence-based policing is based on the use of randomised control trials modelled on medical research techniques. I am sure the Minister is aware that Check- point is an EBP randomised control trial, but is he aware that it is only one of a large number of such experiments in the UK influenced by, and part of, the Cambridge EBP centre’s master’s degree programme? Randomised control experiments have, for instance, proved that police body cameras reduce conflict, that specific patrol patterns can reduce crime in hot spots and that issuing tasers to whole shifts of police officers does not improve citizen or police safety. The biggest gain in knowledge so far is the Cambridge crime harm index, which proved that in Northamptonshire 80% of harm caused by crime was the work of 7% of offenders.
Is the Minister aware of the UK Society of Evidence Based Policing, which is now replicated in many countries? Is he aware that Peter Neyroud—formerly chief constable of Thames Valley Police and now Professor Sherman’s academic colleague—recently explained evidence-based policing to a meeting of chiefs of police in India, which was chaired by Prime Minister Modi, who directed that the technique be adopted on a pan-India basis?
Is the Minister aware of how much interest in or support for this work has been shown by Her Majesty’s Government? The answer is practically none—and there has been almost nothing from Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition either, with the honourable exception of David Lammy MP, who noted the effectiveness of the West Midlands scheme Turning Point, which has just been mentioned, with black and Asian victims. This technique proves what works to reduce crime and, equally importantly, what does not. I have never seen anything as exciting as this in my police career.
The Home Secretary has indicated this week that nationwide targets for crime reduction will be reintroduced. They had a detrimental and distorting effect when they were in place. The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice should be aware of what really does reduce crime before such targets re-emerge, so my last question to the Minister is: is he prepared to meet me, Professor Sherman and Peter Neyroud, preferably with the Police Minister, to see how this British invention can best be nurtured? Of course, I would be delighted if the noble Lord, Lord Bates, wished to join us.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bates, on securing this important debate. It is clear that our justice system is not working. We lock up too many people. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, referred to the quality of mercy. I fear that is not a word we are likely to hear very much from our current Home Secretary, but we should find a way to use it.
Almost two-thirds of adults released from prison after sentences of 12 months or less go on to reoffend, so the Durham experiment is clearly a step in the right direction, but four months’ rehabilitation is just the start of turning people away from a life of crime. The crucial thing is getting offenders into employment. Ministry of Justice statistics show that only 17% of offenders get a job within a year of leaving prison. Those not in regular employment are almost twice as likely to reoffend. That is why, in its 2017 manifesto, the Conservative Party pledged to give employers a national insurance holiday if they took on any ex-offender. Last year, I asked what had happened to this manifesto promise and the Government told me that they were consulting on it. Is consultation yet about to turn into action?
Women who leave prison and fail to secure employment are just as likely to reoffend as men and, although the numbers are much smaller, the effects are potentially even more damaging. Every year, imprisonment of female offenders separates more than 17,000 children from their mothers. I applaud the efforts of Working Chance, a charity that helps female offenders into jobs. Its supporters include Pret a Manger and Virgin but, sadly, a lot of the companies that the charity has approached fail to see that this would help them and their staff, but ex-offenders become very loyal workers as the Timpson example has demonstrated. Only 4% of people that Working Chance has placed in a job go on to reoffend, which demonstrates why it makes such sense to fund organisations like it.
A survey by the Government in 2016 found that only half of businesses would consider employing an ex-offender. Can the Government tell me what they will do to encourage businesses to take on these people and help society in general?
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Bates for introducing this debate and I welcome innovative and holistic approaches like this one which build on much of the work I have witnessed over the years in the youth justice system.
We know that early intervention and out-of-court disposals have been effective in contributing to the reduction of youth custody and keeping children out of the criminal justice system. While there are, of course, differences between this approach and the Checkpoint programme, the principle of early intervention is the key parallel. Subject to successful completion, specifically designed interventions will help address the underlying causes of offending, including drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues and will leave offenders without a criminal record, which so often is a huge barrier to breaking the cycle of reoffending. It will also allow them to go on and lead a life free of crime. Prison will remain the right option for those who commit serious crimes, but prisons themselves are all too aware that rehabilitation outcomes are not good enough, although there are notable success stories,
We should and need to focus our time and resources on dealing with these underlying issues at the earliest opportunity because of how prevalent they are among offenders entering prison. It is good to see that Durham Constabulary’s interim impact figures are promising—as my noble friend Lord Bates mentioned—and that other police forces around the country are adopting innovative programmes to tackle these issues head on. Prison, after all, is the last resort.
We must not forget the victim and at no time should the safety of the public be compromised. We owe it to the offender and the victim, as well as society, to find a way to reintroduce reformed or reforming individuals so that they can become fully contributing members of society. Unless we continue to try and explore alternative solutions such as Checkpoint and address the underlying issues before people end up in prison, we will not make progress.
Getting the balance right between tough sentencing and rehabilitation will always be challenging, but there can be no greater prize than taking someone out of a life of crime and supporting them back into being a contributing member of society. This will always be worth fighting for.
My Lords, this is a short and compressed debate, but I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bates, on introducing such an important topic. I thank Durham Constabulary for having been a pioneer in this field. It is not one of our largest police forces but it has really achieved something. As the current chief constable Jo Farrell said, we are talking about a cohort of people for whom this cycle—the cycle of repetitive convictions and, in many cases, repetitive trips to prison—will never end unless we do something different. Prison does not work for these people. It consumes massive resources; every decision to send someone to prison commits massive resources that could be used in more effective ways.
The Checkpoint programme is a managed form of out-of-court disposal that is contract-based. As the academic literature says, all the indications and evidence are that it works. I think that we should continue this process of evaluation and then learn from it what we can do with schemes of this kind, such as those that some other forces are pursuing.
Mention has been made of victims. My experience when talking to victims is that what they want most of all is for what happened never to happen to them—or anybody else—again. If they can be engaged in a situation where they see some prospect of the offender changing, so that he recognises what he has done and does not do anything like that again, they are very much attracted to that. I have observed this kind of restorative justice in practice in Durham jail, indicating that quite a lot of experimentation in this field takes place in Durham.
On wider public perceptions, we hear a lot from leading figures in some parties about prison working and locking more people up for longer, as well as all the newspaper headlines that follow that kind of rhetoric. But when you confront people with the facts of what led people to commit offences, which methods of dealing with them had any chance of success and which very little chance, the public are much shrewder about these things than we give them credit for.
This project has been properly conducted and is being properly evaluated. It is, as the noble Lord, Lord Blair, pointed out, an example of evidence-based policing and evidence-based policy. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said, when something is evaluated as being successful, it should be embedded and used more widely. We on these Benches would like to hear less of the empty rhetoric and more about practical schemes such as this.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for securing this debate. I also thank him for his introduction and his review of the scheme. It was a comprehensive presentation and I thought it particularly important in bringing out the fact that victim satisfaction radically improved—and the impact of avoiding short sentences, with their known failures.
Our criminal justice system is failing in its key task of tackling reoffending. This failure has created more victims and left their communities less safe. Reoffending costs are estimated at £18 billion per year, and nearly two-thirds of short-term prisoners go on to reoffend. Despite the Government admitting that their part-privatisation of the probation service was a disaster, they are still insisting that millions of pounds’ worth of new contracts should be handed to private probation companies. Rehabilitation and probation do not produce the best results when they are run for private profit, as Checkpoint’s welcome findings demonstrate. The programme’s tailor-made approach to cutting reoffending tackles underlying issues such as mental health and alcohol and drug misuse, and aims to improve life chances.
The first results from the trial have found a 15% drop in reoffending. Of the 2,660 offenders involved in the trial to date, only 6% have reoffended. It also appears cost-effective, suggesting that for every 1,000 offenders it saves at least £2 million a year in reduced crime. What research have the Government done on the most cost-effective ways to bring down the rate of reoffending? Does the Minister believe that short, ineffective sentences are unnecessarily adding to the cost of reoffending?
Labour has long argued that our criminal justice system needs to be rebuilt, with a focus on crime prevention and early intervention, giving people the best chance of rehabilitation. We have also said that effective police work requires the police to work collaboratively with youth workers, mental health services, schools and drug rehabilitation programmes. Checkpoint’s findings are impressive and I commend the work of the Durham Constabulary. I hope that the Government will sit up and listen.
My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Bates for securing this debate. I note that Durham Constabulary is making a notable contribution to innovation and evidence-building through the locally led Checkpoint initiative. I seek to address this and to consider the wider context of the Government’s policy on out-of-court disposals and efforts to reduce reoffending.
Ultimately, it is for police forces to determine how they choose to use the flexibility that they have to adapt their own local policy and practice around the use of out-of-court disposals, albeit within the constraints of national rules and guidance. We, as the Government, take an interest in evidence from the police and their partners about the effectiveness of such novel approaches. MoJ officials are in contact with partners in Durham and we look forward to seeing and analysing Durham’s forthcoming peer-reviewed findings of the randomised control trial phase.
That said, we have seen the promising early findings indicated in the media, including an estimated 15% reduction in reoffending compared with a control group, which appears to be a notable achievement in itself. I am also aware of the positive feedback on the role that specialist navigators play in delivering the Checkpoint initiative. It is encouraging to see offenders being supported in so many ways to identify and comply with meaningful steps to tackle the issues that sit beneath their offending and, therefore, to help to address reoffending.
To maintain public confidence, it is important that such schemes are operated effectively. It follows that only suitable cases should be identified as falling within such schemes. There is accountability required on the part of offenders, if they fail to meet the terms of such a scheme. But we recognise that early intervention provides an opportunity to address an offender’s issues, before they escalate into more serious offending.
We should be clear that police out-of-court disposals, including any local variants, should be for lower-level offences. They are not considered appropriate alternatives to prosecution for individuals who would be likely to receive a custodial sentence in court for the offence in question. Out-of-court disposals are therefore available to deal with lower-level or first-time offending, but in a swift and efficient manner. They can certainly maximise the use of police officer time and achieve a satisfactory outcome for the public, while allowing officers to tackle more serious crime issues.
The Government support the policy set out in the 2017-21 strategy of the National Police Chiefs’ Council for charging and out-of-court disposals, which favours a simpler set of options for the police, with only conditional disposals in use. By “conditional disposals”, I mean that the offender needs to comply with one or more conditions, which may be rehabilitative, reparative, restrictive or punitive. The conditions provide the opportunity to address the underlying causes of offending and to intervene early, before a potentially more serious future offence occurs.
Conditional out-of-court disposals allow victims to be involved in decision-making as well. Out-of-court disposals with rehabilitative conditions are an opportunity for early intervention and prevention. This is particularly important for vulnerable groups, such as offenders with drug or alcohol issues. In addition, the Government’s strategy for female offenders and accompanying police guidance promotes the opportunity for police to direct women into appropriate services, such as women’s centres, as part of a disposal. I note the interest of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester on these issues, which are of direct interest to the department.
Durham’s Checkpoint initiative is one example of various models that have been termed deferred prosecution. Not all police areas are carrying out rigorous trials, but we are of course interested in any other meaningful evidence about the impact of different approaches. In fact, and I note this in the context of the observations of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, we are trialling a Chance to Change scheme in north-west London and West Yorkshire in partnership with local police and the police and crime commissioners. Obviously, results on reoffending and other outcomes will take time to come through, but we will share those findings in due course.
One key difference between what is termed a conditional caution—the statutory disposal that is a formal structure to set enforceable conditions to offenders—and a deferred prosecution is the impact on an individual’s criminal record. Where a caution is a criminal record, a deferred prosecution may offer the opportunity to avoid that. Clearly that may have beneficial effects and implications—for example, for the future employability of an individual who is directed away early on from criminal activity. We take an active role in understanding what seems to work in reducing reoffending and we will continue to do so.
Reducing reoffending is of course a complex issue and it needs to be combined with efforts across government and local partners. I fully accept the observations that have been made, most recently by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, about the need for collaboration in order to achieve results in this area. We work alongside a wide range of partners, including other departments, to ensure that support for offenders is given on what is as far as possible a joined-up basis.
I shall address some of the questions that were directed at me. My noble friend Lord Bates asked four questions. He asked how we are able to recognise the costs and complex benefits of such schemes. I can only go so far as to say that the Treasury considers flows of cost and benefit when reaching allocations, but I cannot give further detail of that at this time. On his second question about where we are with regard to the analysis of these schemes, I have to remind noble Lords that this is not our scheme; they are individual schemes. We await the report on the Checkpoint scheme and we will give consideration to it.
On the matter of short sentences that my noble friend raised, we consider that they should be an option, but of course custody is a last resort. In the Queen’s Speech, we announced plans for sentencing legislation that will include tougher community sentences, which we hope will take the place of shorter terms of imprisonment. My noble friend also referred to the matter of the royal commission. I can say that we are in the process of considering the scope of that commission and we will update the House with progress. However, at this stage I cannot say that it will embrace the matter of sentencing.
The noble Lord, Lord Blair, asked a series of questions about my knowledge of and interest in the Cambridge Centre for Evidence-Based Policing. I am not going to claim detailed knowledge of that scheme at all, but clearly we are interested in such initiatives and I would be pleased to meet representatives from the centre and the noble Lord himself to discuss those initiatives. I cannot seek to bind a Home Office Minister with regard to that matter, but I hope that the noble Lord will accept that the Ministry of Justice would be interested in engaging on that topic.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, talked about taking people out of a life of crime. Clearly that has to be one of our objectives, but over and above that it appears to me that one of the real objectives of Checkpoint is to prevent people from entering a life of crime in the first place. If we can employ this sort of methodology, we can prevent someone from beginning with a criminal record by diverting them away from the acquisition of such a record, so it has additional benefits of that kind as well.
I hope that I have addressed the points raised by noble Lords. I repeat my thanks to my noble friend Lord Bates for securing this debate and for his questions.