We spoke with Joanne Preston, Inspector for Deferred Prosecutions at Merseyside police about their new deferred prosecutions scheme.
How did your scheme come about?
It is generally accepted that there is no single solution to prevent re-offending, therefore the Merseyside Police Deferred Prosecution Scheme is a four-month long offender management programme which is tailor-made to the individual. The Merseyside proposal is built on the work of Operation Turning Point and Operation Checkpoint which tested the effectiveness of deferred prosecution with conditions. The Merseyside scheme will target offender’s male aged 18-25 years for minor violence offences plus all minor offences for BAME offenders.
Merseyside Police are investing in a deferred prosecution scheme to give young adults who have committed lower level offences a second chance. We accept that sometimes young adults make rash decisions and poor life choices, and through the scheme, we aim to assist them stop offending, therefore reducing both crime and victims. We accept that some people have complex needs and the scheme will provide an approach to tackle this by providing a health based approach, rehabilitation and a second chance to both first time offenders and young adults who have some previous offending but have never received any kind of help, intervention or support before. Where appropriate, victims will have the opportunity to take part in restorative justice. It will also give a timely end to the incident as progress through the court system is a long process and can sometimes prevent the victim from having closure.
How does your scheme work?
An external agency will be employed on a 12-month proof of concept. The agency will provide professional keyworkers to identify the reasons for offending and to deliver appropriate interventions to divert the young adult from crime, improve their life chances, overall health and wellbeing. The offences that will be accepted on the scheme will be minor in nature.
Acceptance onto deferred prosecution scheme is dependent on strict eligibility. The agency keyworker will:
- Complete a risk assessment.
- Create a bespoke contract with up to 5 conditions with up to 4 months for completion.
- Identify interventions around the subject’s critical pathways of need.
- Monitor the offender over the period of the contract to ensure compliance.
If the young adult successfully completes the 16-week contract, then they will not be prosecuted for the original offence. Failure to complete the contract will result in formal court proceedings being invoked.
What has been the biggest challenge you've faced so far?
On a personal level the biggest challenge I have faced is having to go from zero knowledge about what a deferred prosecution scheme was to having sufficient knowledge and evidence to be able to present a proposal two months later to the Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner and Chief Officers about a scheme that I believed would work in the Merseyside Policing area. The proposal was approved as a 12-month proof of concept, so I have had to work to a very tight time scale of four months to actually get the scheme ready to start in April 2021. I honestly don’t think I could have done this without the support, advice and help from colleagues from other Forces who have had to put up with my constant stream of email and phone calls, especially Caroline Chapman from Hampshire, Sarah Carlson-Browne from Devon and Cornwall, Ailsa Quinlan from Surrey and Nicola Lloyd from West Midlands Police.
What has been the biggest success you've had so far?
The fact that we (Merseyside Police) have decided to implement the scheme. I truly believe that given the right support, guidance and interventions we are in a position to help young adults who have come in to contact with the police and criminal justice system turn their lives around. I have a 21-year-old son who sometimes makes stupid immature decisions, and I would hate for him to potentially ruin his future opportunities because he made one silly mistake. If we can prevent any young adult from going down the road of continuous arrests, convictions and prison sentences by giving them interventions, guidance and mentoring then I think the scheme is worthwhile and is an excellent opportunity to changes people’s lives for the better.
What advice would you give to practitioners setting up new schemes?
Do your research, and do not be afraid of reaching out to the other forces who are already running a deferred prosecution scheme. I have found that all the forces are doing things slightly differently to suit their own force areas, however all are willing to discuss the pros and cons, what worked well and what needed to be changed after implementation. This gives you an ideal opportunity to learn what has the potential to work and what the potential pitfalls may be before you start your own scheme.