Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Looking for a postgraduate course that is directly relevant to working in criminal justice? Consider our MA in the Ethics of Policing & CJ

Society today has increasingly high expectations of criminal justice professionals. We expect them to engage with local communities, to deal effectively and fairly with young people, to work successfully with other service providers, to catch, sentence and supervise criminals, and target resources effectively, but to do so without alienating or stereotyping any groups in society. We expect them to acquit themselves
honourably in situations that would test anybody’s judgement and powers of self-control and we hold them to account (often publicly) when they are perceived to have failed in their duty. The jobs that we ask criminal justice professionals to perform are fraught not only with practical challenges, but also with very complex ethical difficulties. More and more, criminal justice services and workers are being asked to account for the decisions they have made and the policies they have adopted.

Keele’s MA programme in the Ethics of Policing and Criminal Justice was launched in 2006 with the aim of equipping police officers and those in other Criminal Justice professions (e.g. probation officers, magistrates, prosecutors, prison officers) with the skills that they need to make good ethical decisions and to argue convincingly for the policies and actions they have chosen.

The programme, taught jointly by ethicists and criminologists, is the first of its kind in the UK, and is designed to be taken part-time over two years alongside full-time employment (there is also a full-time option). In the first year, major topics in ethical and social theory, investigation, enforcement, prosecution and punishment are covered in four three-day taught modules. In the second year students write a dissertation on a topic of their choice under the guidance of a personal supervisor.

Many of the issues on this course are taught through case studies. There is no shortage of these in the media. Take, for instance, the recent controversy about the creation of a ‘superdatabase’ of all phone and internet communication. Such a database could be a rich resource for the purposes of law enforcement, but also attracts considerable criticism on privacy grounds.

This controversy demonstrates the tension that exists between privacy and the needs of criminal investigations. Privacy is widely considered to be a basic human right, gaining its importance from its relationship to autonomy (the ability to control what happens in one’s own life). Although most people would accept that some invasions of privacy are necessary in order to further the goals of criminal justice, it is not at all clear where acceptable gathering of information for these purposes ends, and where unjustified breaches of privacy begin. In order to identify where such a line might be, and what uses of a superdatabase would be ethically defensible, it is necessary to get much clearer about what privacy means and what values might compete with it. We aim to equip our students to identify the main ethical features of debates like this and to construct a position that they can defend in a reasoned and convincing way. And this, after all, is what the exercise of professional judgement demands.

• For more information visit www.keele.ac.uk/ethics or phone 01782 734 084.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

£20k awarded to evaluate a project designed to reduce young drivers' crash risk

A Keele Criminologist, in partnership with Staffordshire County Council, has recently been successful in obtaining £20,000 to fund an evaluation of a road safety intervention. Dr Helen Wells, of the Research Institute for Law, Politics and Justice, along with members of the Road Safety & Sustainable Travel Unit at Staffordshire County Council were awarded the funds as part of the RoSPA/BNFL scholarship competition, designed to fund projects which offered 'to carry out research into safety and accident prevention that will produce defined, practical and influential outcomes to help save lives and prevent injuries.' The evaluation project was one of three funded projects selected from over 30 shortlisted applications and the award of the money was made at a lavish awards dinner in Birmingham last month. The RoSPA scholarship scheme was funded by a bequest of £500,000 from BNFL (British Nuclear Fuels Limited), and is intended to run for the next seven to ten years.

The joint project aims to evaluate the effectiveness of a crucial element of the Council’s Young Driver Programme – a resource to improve relationships between the parent, young driver, and professional driving instructor during the young driver’s learning period.

Young drivers are over-represented in road casualty statistics. Drivers aged between 16 and 25 years old accounted for 26 per cent of all car drivers killed or seriously injured in 2007 whilst constituting only 13% of the UK population. However, increasing driving experience before the driving test has been shown to reduce the risk of an accident. Private practice involving the parent and young driver is a common way of increasing experience and exposure.

The Cohort II study published by the DfT last year revealed that out of 10, 000 new drivers, 59% had embarked on private practice sessions with relatives or friend. The quality of such private advice however is variable with one survey revealing that 31% of 18-29 year olds had picked up ‘bad habits’ from their parents during practice sessions.

Staffordshire County Council’s Road Safety & Sustainable Travel Unit has developed a Coaching Programme aimed at mentoring young people through the learning process. A Resource Pack provided as part of the programme intends to align parental advice with that of the learner’s Approved Driving Instructor (ADI), and to assist parents in managing private practice. The pack focuses on the relationship between the young driver, their parents, and their ADI.

The aim of the Resource Pack is to improve the relationship between the parent, young driver and ADI, to have a positive impact on the young drivers’ driving practices, leading to a reduction in risk-taking behaviour and, consequently, to a reduction in the numbers of young drivers involved in road crashes. The evaluation will take place over the next 6-8 months.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Background to the Dano Sonnex case

By Professor Anne Worrall

The former Chief Inspector of Probation, Rod Morgan, said in The Guardian today (5 June 2009) that the killing of two French students had become the ‘Baby P of Probation’. What did he mean? In the past few years, probation officers have been subject to the kind of media attention that was previously reserved for child protection social workers. When known offenders, under the supervision of probation officers, commit what are termed serious further offences, there is an understandable public demand to blame someone (other than the offenders) for not doing their jobs properly. This has been happening to social workers for decades ever since the death of Maria Colwell at the hands of her stepfather in 1973. But until recently probation officers have escaped this scrutiny because, historically, their job has been viewed (inaccurately) as being more about ‘advising, assisting and befriending’ offenders than about controlling them and protecting the public from them. Probation officers have always attempted to balance the ‘care’ and ‘control’ aspects of their work but the emphasis on ‘control’ has increased sharply in the past 10 years and particularly in the past 5 years since the formation in 2004 of the National Offender Management Service, which has combined the Prison Service and the National Probation Service in an attempt to provide ‘end-to-end’ or ‘seamless’ management of offenders through their imprisonment and eventual release on supervision in the community.

When this ‘seamlessness’ unravels so dramatically as it has done in the Dano Sonnex case, it is right that we should ask how this ‘was allowed’ to happen and how these crimes might have been prevented. There have been several reports on the case (see the Ministry of Justice website) and they point to a number of errors of judgement and poor communications. Sonnex went to prison in 2003 for a violent offence and was initially considered to be very disruptive and dangerous. He applied for parole (early release) twice and was refused twice by the Parole Board. He was released at the latest possible legal date and subject to a licence supervised by the Probation Service. But by that time he had calmed down in prison and, on release, was assessed as being of medium risk to the public. If he had been assessed as high risk, he would have received more intensive supervision under ">Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) but that didn’t happen. Nevertheless, his probation officer became sufficiently concerned about his behaviour that she initiated procedures to have him recalled to prison for breaching his licence. Her managers delayed signing this off as they wanted more information and, meanwhile, he appeared in court for a relatively minor non-violent offence. The magistrates had to adjourn the case because it was not ready to proceed but they thought he would be recalled to prison that day anyway, so granted him ‘technical’ bail. But the recall papers weren’t ready and he went free. When the recall papers were eventually completed, the police delayed acting upon them and failed to arrest him until it was too late. As one report points out, if any one of these errors had not happened, the French students would probably still be alive.

But this is not the first time this has happened to the
Probation Service. In 2005, two cases with similar characteristics to the Sonnex case resulted in similar media coverage – the case of Damien Hanson and Elliott White (who killed John Monckton while they were on prison licence supervision) and that of Anthony Rice (who killed Naomi Bryant while he was on prison licence supervision). All these cases raise serious questions about how realistic it is to aspire to the ‘seamless’ management of offenders. They raise questions about communication between various criminal justice agencies, about resources, about training and about the nature of risk assessment. But, more fundamentally, they raise questions about the overloading of our penal system with thousands of relatively minor offenders, resulting in the system being unable to devote sufficient attention to the few highly dangerous offenders who fall through the cracks with tragic consequences. As Rod Morgan says, ‘The big lesson from the Ferez and Bonomo case is that the attention of penal services needs to be reserved for offenders who merit it. The system is overloaded with offenders who don’t.'