In the Media

Academic study sounds alarm on criminal justice reform

PUBLISHED January 27, 2012

Government ambitions to impose top-down change on the criminal justice system may be doomed, according to an international academic study. A report sponsored by IT services firm Steria - a veteran contractor to English justice organisations - concludes that "progress is typically driven from the bottom up rather than from deliberate centralised policies".

The report sounds a warning to the Ministry of Justice, which is putting in train a programme to introduce a paper light criminal justice system in England by April and several other IT-based reforms. The ministry's chief information officer, Andy Nelson, was this week named as the government's next CIO - alongside his justrice responsibilities.

The study, carried out by Cranfield Business School, looked at four innovative projects and at how to challenge established ways of thinking in a traditionally risk-adverse sector. It warns: "Acute barriers to innovation exist in the justice sector. Innovators have to contend with organisational silo structures, a reluctance to deviate from established performance targets and a general culture of risk aversion. These barriers call for an approach that challenges existing ways of working."

Common characteristics of successful innovation projects include:

  • Engagement of communities, victims and offenders 
  • Good leadership: ' Senior managers need to encourage frontline staff to innovate and engage middle managers in delivery'
  • Recognition that technology on its own will not reduce crime and enhance public protection

The report recommends that policy makers and managers create formal mechanisms for stimulating and implementing new ideas and that innovators publicise their successes more effectively.

Keith Goffin, professor of innovation and new product development at Cranfield School of Management, said: "It is widely recognised that successful innovation in the justice can be difficult. However, this research has revealed that breakthrough improvements are possible by taking innovative approaches, in particular by engaging different agencies, offenders, communities and the private sector in new forms of service delivery. Innovation is critically important in ensuring that criminal justice services can meet new challenges, and protect the values and integrity of society."

The full report is available from