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Working together to shape our local criminal justice service

PCC Alison Hernandez explains the role of the Local Criminal Justice Board and its focus for the next two years.

In February, I will become chair for the Devon and Cornwall Local Criminal Justice Board (LCJB).

Prior to becoming PCC I had worked with the board during my time at the Government Office for the South West and have seen first-hand the results of what working together can achieve for our community.

I am grateful to the chief constable, who has provided strong leadership to the board for the past four years, following in the footsteps of previous chairs including the chief crown prosecutor, chief probation officer and head of the courts.
We each bring our own unique perspective on the criminal justice system and how to improve services.

Criminal justice boards exist in each police force area and are a committee formed from the regional chief executives of criminal justice agencies. In Devon and Cornwall these are; the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts, the National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies, a representative from our prisons and youth offending teams.

We are also fortunate to have the Legal Aid Agency and a defence solicitor who voluntarily sit on the board.

In addition, Jayne Zito represents the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE). There are many fantastic community services and volunteers who work within our criminal justice system and Jayne’s organisation, The Zito Partnership, is one of them.

Having organisations like this working with the board ensures their work is recognised and considered when planning new projects or making changes. From her work with victims of serious crime, Jayne is able to bring the voices of victims and witnesses to the forefront of our discussions.

At our planning event last year, board members were fortunate to hear from a local lady who cares for her adult son who has a mental health condition and has been involved in the courts. At one point in their journey through the system, this family were warned that their son should not be labelled as ‘mad’ and ‘bad’ for fear of the implications this might have.

Even with the unwavering support and advocacy of his family, getting the system to recognise the relationship between his mental health condition and offending behaviour on display was almost impossible.   

Listening to this story made it clear just how significant the impact of the system on offenders with mental health conditions and their families can be. For this reason, the Devon and Cornwall Justice Board has selected mental health and reducing offending as its primary focus for the next two years.

In order to forge better links between mental health services and the criminal justice system, Tim Francis, the mental health commissioner for Cornwall has recently joined the board.

As part of his role, Tim chairs the LCJB Mental Health Partnership which brings together health providers and criminal justice agencies.  This will ensure a better understanding of mental health conditions in our justice system.

Placing an increased focus on mental health is vital. Our goal is to prevent those with mental health conditions unnecessarily entering the criminal justice system and to ensure that for those who do there is fair and appropriate treatment. Last year, the defence lawyer representative said “this will be the most important work that is done.”

In addition, we have recently set up a Reducing Offending Board bringing together criminal justice agencies, local authorities, VCSE organisations and health services under one peninsula strategy. The new board will work alongside the LCJB Mental Health Partnership to reduce offending and support those with mental health conditions.

We are currently consulting on a peninsula restorative justice strategy, an area I have written about before, and plan to bring together partners from across all sectors. This aims to encourage greater partnership working and more strategic planning when specifications for our public services are being drafted and contracts renewed.

A key example of this is the Community Rehabilitation Company – an organisation contracted by the Ministry of Justice to manage low to medium risk offenders in our community.

This is a new approach for the Devon and Cornwall Criminal Justice Board but we recognise that with increasing pressures and demands we must come together to make the best use of our resources, be innovative and try new ways of working.

As the only elected member of the LCJB, I have always felt that my role is to ensure that our services meet the needs of our communities and help add the voice of victims. As chair, I will encourage greater engagement with those who use these services most and ensure that the work of the LCJB complements the Police Crime Plan.

I am proud to take up the role and have the opportunity to influence the shape of our local criminal justice service. I look forward to all the good work we will achieve to create safer, more resilient communities which is better for us all.

Alison Hernandez