The role of Police and Crime Commissioner was intended at the outset to be one which brought about coherence in the Criminal Justice System. At the time when the PCC concept was first made public, the MP for Arundel and South Downs, Nick Herbert was the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice. In the period when the coalition Government was promoting the concept of the new role as being one that should remain free from party politics, Nick spoke openly about how dysfunctional the CJS was and how he hoped that PCCs would bring about change. Since then along with the damage caused to the PCC concept by the involvement of Political Parties, there has been a parallel level of damage to the probation service through Chris Graylings ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ and the way in which the Governments have treated our prisons and Courts Service. Finally the impact of austerity on the voluntary sector provision has ensured that system is near collapse.
At the heart of the issue is the convoluted way in which the various elements of the system are directed and managed from within different Government Departments and different regional structures following different geographical footprints. The one hope for bringing the coherence that all of us would expect from such a system is a local, democratically elected person who is willing to take on the Home Office, the Ministry Of Justice and the Prison and Probation Service in equal measures and demand that they all operate in a manner that ensures that justice acts swiftly and effectively on their patch. Sadly far too many PCCs have become focused on the governance of the Police and Fire and Rescue Service. Clearly bringing common threads together between these two services makes sense, but the reality is that our Fire and Rescue Services do already have a local Governance structure, whereas the Courts and Prisons are controlled from Whitehall and no one is quite sure who is in charge of the various elements of the Probation Service since Chris Grayling wrecked it. There are few PCCs who appear in the slightest bit interested in the CJS beyond their willingness to sit on or Chair their local Criminal Justice Partnerships. The reality is that merely chairing such a body will not bring about the change that is needed if the Courts service is to get the resources it needs to ensure that cases are dealt with in an effective and efficient manner and our prisons are to achieve rehabilitation and stop the the doors from revolving. This reform demands a willingness to listen to and support whistle blowers such as Faith Spear who was a voluntary chair of the Independent Monitoring Board of Her Majesty’s Prison & Young Offenders Institute Hollesley Bay based near Woodbridge in Suffolk and Kim Lennon who was a Prison Officer in Lewes Prison. The fact that both women lost their roles under the noses of PCCs Katy Bourne (Sussex) and Tim Passmore (Suffolk), both of whom have said nothing publicly and appear to have done nothing privately even though the whistleblowing has been shown to be accurate is an appalling state of affairs. Both Tim and Katy have been focused on their attempts to take control of their Fire Brigades. The good news is that some PCCs do understand what they are supposed to do. Marc Jones (Lincolnshire) and Arfon Jones (North Wales) have both been supportive of Faith. In recent days the PCC for Hertfordshire David Lloyd has begun to express interest in looking at the whole of the CJS rather than just Policing and its Blue Light connections. Perhaps this is the beginning of the change that is needed, or perhaps it is an isolated response, only time will tell if people like Faith and Kim will one day have local points of reference to go to with their concerns and the systems will finally begin to work as though the elements understand and are connected to one another and the wider support groups such as Sussex Pathways will get funded in an effective manner.