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As the political parties are busy putting together their manifestos for May's general election, now’s a good time to look at which changes have been favourable, and what’s being proposed by way of changes to our criminal justice system. 

On the one hand, it seems like yesterday that David Cameron and Nick Clegg were pictured outside Number 10. However, a lot has happened in the past five years, and the criminal justice system is one of the areas that has seen the most change. 2014 in particular, has been somewhat of a landmark year for the CJS and there are still Bills and reforms being pushed through parliament ahead of the general elections. 
Let’s start then by looking at what the major changes have been under the current government.

Changes to the CJS under the current government:

The current government’s approach to tackling crime has been to focus on what it terms the ‘key drivers’ of crime, with primary responsibility for doing so resting with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Home Office (HO). 

The MoJ has concentrated on the reduction of crime by those already involved in the criminal justice system. The main focus has been the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, which has seen large-scale structural changes to probation services. 

Since 2010, the Home Office has replaced a range of policing targets with a single objective of reducing crime. In turn, it has introduced a number of reforms in an attempt to accomplish this. The most notable, and hotly debated changes, have been the creation of the National Crime Agency and local Police and Crime Commissioners. 

The Transforming Youth Custody programme launched under the coalition government, places education at the heart of reducing re-offending of those under the age of 18. A pilot project, in 4 young offender institutions (YOIs), will see young offenders receive 30 hours compulsory education a week. In more politically controversial terms, the government plans to build an £85 million secure college for young criminals in Leicestershire, which is scheduled to open in 2017.

The government has acknowledged that there is strong evidence that intervening early in the lives of young people, before behaviour becomes entrenched, is hugely beneficial. As such, it has developed programmes aimed at addressing some of these behaviours. Most notably, this has involved the As Ending Gang and Youth Violence Strategy and the Troubled Families Programme. 

Most recently, of course, the Serious Crime Bill has been pushed through parliament – the first of its kind in Europe. It affords much greater powers in dealing with serious and organised crime, including slavery, prostitution, child abuse, drug trafficking, fraud, and other organised crimes. 

It’ll come as no surprise that all of the changes have been debated by opposing parties; but some of the changes continue to be hotly debated and will no doubt make party manifestos in April. 

Parties on all sides have been highly critical of the role, and even the existence, of local Police and Crime Commissioners. The decentralisation of the probation service has polarised views too. The Labour Party has been heavily critical of the government for making a far too hasty decision to change probation services. 

Labour’s main criticism at the moment though appears to be with the proposals for the YOI Secure College, set to be built in Leicester. Labour MP and shadow justice secretary Sadiq Kahn has expressed his many concerns over the construction of the institution, and has vowed to cancel the build should Labour win the General Election. 

Apart from the obvious opposition to various programmes and reforms, each party has made it clear what its concerns are with the criminal justice system and what changes they believe need to be made. Here’s a quick overview of what we found – not a definitive guide to what each party is planning – rather an overview of some of the proposals currently being discussed:

We’re not even going to attempt to summarise all these views; that’s beyond the reach of a single blog post. However, in the coming weeks we’ll be taking a closer look at party responses to addressing re-offending rates, and what their views on rehabilitation look like. 
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