Plymouth Community Justice Court: A Case Study of Problem Solving Interventions, Reducing Re-offending and Public Confidence

Lead Research Organisation: Plymouth University
Department Name: Sch of Psychology

Abstract

The criminal justice system has over many years introduced a range of initiatives designed to reduce crime and support offenders in their efforts to desist from crime. One recent initiative, originating in the U.S.A and aimed specifically at low risk offenders, adopted by the English court system is the community justice approach. It has been piloted in a number of areas of England including Plymouth where in May, 2007 a Community Justice Court (CJC) was established alongside the Magistrates' Court.
There are two main ways in which the CJC differs from the traditional Magistrates' Court. First, the community is involved in identifying crimes or anti-social behaviours which can be targeted by the police and then in identifying work which offenders could undertake to make reparation to the community. Second, the CJC can use problem solving meetings which involve the offender and staff from probation and other third sector and statutory agencies. The aim of the meetings is to focus on the problems which have contributed to the offender's criminal behaviour and identify ways in which these problems can be tackled. The decisions of the problem solving meeting are then built into the sentence imposed by the CJC. The rationale is that if a solution can be found to these problems then the offender will be less inclined to commit crimes in the future.
This project has four main foci. First, it will develop an understanding of the effectiveness of the CJC by tracking cases and examining re-offending data. Second, it will examine in detail how the CJC operates and how and on what basis decisions are made whether to refer particular cases to problem solving meetings. Third, it will examine how problem solving meetings actually function. There are two aspects of problem solving meetings which are critical to their effectiveness: collaboration between professionals and the nature and extent of the participation by the offender, and the aim here is to identify how these are accomplished and what impact they have on outcomes. Finally the project will examine how communities respond to the CJC and what sort of confidence they express in its procedures.
To address these questions we will undertake four packages of research work reflecting each of these aims. First, we will collate and analyse statistics from the courts, police and probation in order to estimate how effective the court is in preventing re-offending. We will also interview a sample of offenders to gain an understanding of how they evaluate the impact of the court on their behaviour. Second, we will make detailed observations of the activities of the court and interview those who work in the court (e.g. magistrates, probation staff, solicitors) for their perceptions of how the CJC operates and how decisions about referral to problem solving meetings come about. Third, we will make video recordings of a sample of problem solving meetings. These recordings will be transcribed and then subjected to detailed analysis for patterns of interaction related to collaboration and participation and which can be identified as influencing the functioning and outcome of these meetings. Finally, we will undertake surveys and focus groups with residents in order to gauge how selected neighbourhoods perceive the effectiveness of the court.
By focusing on the processes involved in the day to day operation of the CJC, we aim to understand better how this form of justice operates and to identify practices which promote its effectiveness. The results of our project will reveal a number of lessons which will be applicable beyond the Plymouth model and be able to inform criminal justice agencies more widely. These findings will be disseminated to those working in the criminal justice system and local communities in order to improve understanding of how community justice works and, more practically, to help develop the skills of those who are involved in the different operations of the court.

Planned Impact

There will be a number of beneficiaries of this research. Direct beneficiaries will be those whose role requires them to work within or in a closely associated way with the criminal justice court (CJC) in Plymouth. These beneficiaries include probation staff, magistrates, police and third sector staff who input into problem solving meetings. In addition this project will be of direct benefit to the managers of the lead services who are responsible for implementing criminal justice policy and practice in Devon and Cornwall.
Also benefiting from this research are those who work for criminal justice organisations but who are not directly involved in the Plymouth CJC. These beneficiaries include those who would wish to gain a greater insight into this particular implementation of community justice. Furthermore, those with a responsibility for designing and implementing criminal justice policy would also benefit from this research. These beneficiaries will include those who work for or are closely associated with Her Majesty's Court Services, and those within the Ministry of Justice who are responsible for policy involving the courts.
The ways in which these people will benefit from this research are through three main impact activities: maintaining continuous engagement with the lead criminal justice organisations based on excellent existing relationships; knowledge exchange and public engagement activities; and capability development through the development and delivery of training packages. The key to delivering impact activities will be sustaining working relationships with the senior managers in the lead criminal justice organisations. This contact will be maintained through variety of activities but principally through our attendance at meetings and the delivery of updates to the group over the course of the project.
Knowledge exchange activities will benefit individuals and organisations by providing them with information and analysis about current practice in the CJC and areas where practice could be improved. In addition dissemination will occur locally to those whose work involves them in the CJC or through established dissemination outlets associated with the lead criminal justice organisations. In addition members of the research team will give bespoke presentations to particular professional groups with an interest in community justice. Toward the end of the project, we anticipate being able to disseminate our findings to professional stakeholders through a specially organised themed conference run through the University's Law and Criminal Justice Research Centre. We will also deliver presentations at conferences which are attended by criminal justice professionals and write articles for professional journals. Public engagement activities would be undertaken alongside the lead criminal justice organisations such that we would offer to be involved in their established engagement activities.
Our other means for benefiting individuals and groups is through the development and delivery of training packages specifically for those who are involved in managing and participating in problem solving meetings. We anticipate that the video data and analysis of the problem solving meetings will yield a rich corpus of data identifying different practices which can be seen to influence the trajectory of the meetings. We intend to develop training packages which draw upon these findings by allowing us to display the different practices and their procedural consequences for the participants. Trainees would then be able to identify and discuss the nature of the practices, their outcomes and whether such outcomes are ones anticipated and desired by participants. This form of training would also allow trainees to identify alternative practices which might yield better outcomes.
 
Description This project was an in-depth study of a pilot Community Justice Court (CJC) located within a city Magistrates' Court. The findings and analyses have been linked to four work packages, all of which have engaged with developing new theoretical insights and applications relevant to both policy and practice.
The first package related to the impact of the CJC on desistance and reoffending. Several data-sets were collected from court, police and probation records and analysed to assess the impact of being processed through this court on later re-offending. Systematic analyses of these data revealed that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that the CJC procedures positively impacted on reducing re-offending. Nevertheless, the research study has extended our understanding of the impact of the court procedures by conducting in-depth interviews with a sample of offenders immediately following their appearance in the CJC and again six months later. This has enabled us to begin to develop an understanding of the individual experiences of the court process and the interaction between these and motivation to desist from crime.
As part of the second work package, this understanding has been complemented by assembling a unique and comprehensive database of interviews with a wide range of stakeholders in the CJC and associated agencies as well as conducting detailed observations of the court in session. This package was a detailed exploration of the organisation and culture of the court's work. The development of a conceptual model of the trajectory of the offender through the stages of the community justice court process has enabled the identification of key points that can facilitate or hinder a problem-solving approach within the court setting. This model has also provided a framework for the identification of positive practices which can be integrated into the court's work; this integration has been facilitated by an iterative, action research approach between the research team and the stakeholders within the court.
The third work package explored through conversation analysis what actually happens in problem-solving meetings, thus contributing new knowledge to this field of study. To date our analysis has focused on how problems are formulated and 'tested' by the problem solving team particularly in relation to mental health. This work has been central to developing a training package for those involved in problem solving and will be progressed further in partnership with stakeholder organisations, thus building capacity within the third sector.
Public perceptions of this form of justice, particularly in relation to public confidence, have also been investigated for work package four. This work has shown that while public observation of the court elicits some support for the therapeutic ends of community justice, much stronger interest is directed at the fairness of the court process itself. This suggests that it is through a framework of procedural, rather than therapeutic justice that the public evaluate the performance of the community justice court. The putative links between perceptions of procedural fairness and sentencing outcomes suggest that this finding has implications that embrace issues of legitimacy and effectiveness.
Exploitation Route Consistent with our original pathways to impact, we have identified three main ways in which our findings have been taken forward: first, we have maintained an open dialogue with relevant stakeholders throughout the project. As part of this dialogue, we held a symposium involving the research team members and other invited speakers, together with a wide range of interested local parties to review and discuss the emerging outcomes.
Second, a training package is being developed for those who are directly involved in problem solving based on our observations and analysis of problem solving meetings. To date we have run a pilot training programme based on the principles of Conversation Analytic Role-Play Method and intend to develop this further in partnership with the third-sector agency responsible for problem solving in the local court setting.
Finally, the research team members will continue to disseminate the project's findings through academic publications and conference presentations in a range of settings, with the intention of accessing both national and international audiences. Most recently, we have been commissioned to write a chapter on the treatment of mental health issues within the community court setting.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description 1. We have been in regular contact with the Community Justice Court Magistrates as well as the relevant managers in HMCTS. The magistrates have half yearly meetings which are also attended by stakeholders in HMCTS. We have actively participated in these meetings in order to provide updates on our research project and the implications of our findings. In total we have attended six such meetings over the course of the grant and beyond. The Magistrates have expressed how useful they have found these interactions and reported that these updates and discussions have enabled them to reflect critically upon their own practice and helped them to identify where changes can be made to court procedures. 2. During the course of the project itself, we organised a day long symposium for a range of stakeholder organisations in order to discuss the results of the research and stimulate discussion. We achieved a wide representation from stakeholder organisations, including: HMCTS, Magistrates, Devon and Cornwall Police, Police and Crime Commissioner's Office, third sector agencies. We also invited experts from other academic organisations and from the justice think tank, New Economic Foundation to give additional talks on their work on innovative court initiatives. All participants were provided with a symposium pack which provided summaries of each presentation and other useful resources. We received very positive feedback from attendees about the usefulness of the symposium. 3. As part of our continued relationship with the CJC magistrates and the regional office of HMCTS, we have actively participated in a review of the operation of the community justice court which was held after the aforementioned symposium. This review focused on the future operation of the CJC. An outcome of this review was that we were tasked in partnership with the third sector agency, with delivering a training seminar on modes of offender engagement for Magistrates new to community justice courts. We have undertaken two such training seminars with Magistrates. We have received positive feedback from the chair of the Bench and from stakeholders of HMCTS who indicated that the seminar had allowed the Magistrates to reflect on a number of critical issues in engagement. 4. We have established an ongoing collaborative relationship with the third sector agency which is responsible for undertaking pre-sentence problem solving meetings. Our research has informed the development of a skills training programme for those involved in problem solving. We received very positive feedback from the agency staff and volunteers who participated in our pilot. Piloting this programme with the agency has led us to explore the possibility of developing in partnership a wider ranging training programme for other organisations involved in similar types of problem solving. 5. One of the research team has taken up the role of trustee for the third sector agency. This agency took the decision to establish itself as an independent charity. The process of applying for charitable status as well as seeking sources of funding has entailed all trustees to support and advise the manager and her staff. The member of the research team who is now a trustee has taken a particular role in advising on training and supporting the manager in making applications for funding. 6. We have written a chapter for the forthcoming Palgrave Handbook of Adult Mental Health, which is targeted at clinicians. The chapter discusses our analysis of the Problem-Solving Meetings, specifically examining how mental health issues are raised and dealt with within the meetings. The clinical relevance of our research findings were highlighted and suggestions for practice given. Copies of the chapter have been given to the relevant CJC stakeholders who found it a useful contribution to understanding the dynamics of problem solving. This and related analyses will feed into the development of problem-solving training. 7. With the recent profound changes to the way that probation services operate under the Government's Transforming Rehabilitation policy, probation services nationally have established the Probation Institute as a centre of excellence on probation practice. One of the research team gave an invited talk to the Institute on the findings of our research project. In addition a presentation was made on 1st September, 2015 at the pre-European Society of Criminology Conference meeting of CREDOS (Collaboration of Researchers for the Effective Development of Offender Supervision). This analysed some of the data and findings from the Community Justice Court project in relation to the new organisational arrangements for the supervision of low risk offenders brought about by the Transforming Rehabilitation changes. This review contributed to the discussion by the international range of academics and practitioners who attended this meeting. 8. Our future plans include capacity building through further development of training programmes for those involved in problem solving and for Magistrates.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal

 
Title Public Perceptions of and confidence in the community justice court 
Description This data was collected as part of a larger project which was a case study of a community justice court (CJC) located within the Magistrates' Courts in a large city in England. As part of this project, the investigators were concerned to understand the impact of the Court's particular procedures on public confidence in justice processes. The procedures which were unique to this court were the use of problem solving meetings prior to sentencing by the Magistrates. In order to assess public perceptions of the community justice court procedures and their confidence in these procedures, eleven focus groups were conducted between October and December, 2013. The procedure involved inviting participants in each focus group to spend 2-3 hours in public area of the court on the days that the CJC ran. They were asked to observe all cases that were heard in the courts during this period. After the period of observation the participants were invited back to the University and participated in a focus group discussion. The focus groups lasted between half to one and half hours, there were a minimum of two and a maximum of 5 people in each group. Participants were recruited from advertisements around the university and through an article which appeared in the local newspaper which described the project and encouraged people to participate. Participants were either students at the university or members of the public with a proportion drawn from the University of the Third Age. The focus groups were recorded and transcribed orthographically. The data in this data collection consists of the anonymised transcripts of these focus group sessions. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Submission to UK Data Services for reuse/analysis as open access data. 
URL https://discover.ukdataservice.ac.uk/catalogue/?sn=851611&type=Data%20catalogue
 
Description Trusteeship of Community Advice and Support Service 
Organisation Community Advice and Support Scheme
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We have developed a strong research based link with this voluntary sector organisation. The CASS is responsible for conducting and following up problem solving meetings with offenders. Currently they are establishing themselves as an independent charity. One of the research team (T.Auburn) has agreed to take on the role of one of the trustees and intends to provide the service with expert advice based on the findings of the project
Collaborator Contribution CASS has been extremely helpful in providing us with the co-operation and facilities that we need to conduct several of the work packages associated with our project.
Impact We have conducted a pilot training programme with CASS and intend to develop this programme more fully with a view to offering it to other agencies involved in problem solving particularly within a criminal justice context
Start Year 2012
 
Description Community Justice Court, Plymouth: A Symposium for Professional Stakeholders 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We ran a day long symposium with expert speakers from other universities and policy think tanks. We presented the key findings to date from our research to professional stakeholders. We involved professionals from HMCTS, Magistrates, Police, Probation, CASS, Police and Crime Commissioner's Office for Devon and Cornwall.

There was a great deal of very useful discussion on the day. The professionals responsible for running the court (HMCTS, Magistrates) also took on board the recommendations, both practical and policy, of the information discussed and are already implementing a number of these recommendations.

Further discussions took place within the court about how to implement the recommendations that came out of the day. We were also able to liaise more effectively with the Police in accessing data relevant to reoffending.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Plymouth Community Justice Court Stakeholder Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On-going planning and developmental work in relation to the Plymouth Community Justice Court operations and associated services.

Stimulated discussion and planning for improvements in the services.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Progress Report to Plymouth Magistrates Community Court Panel 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Participants in your research or patient groups
Results and Impact This was a short presentation to the Community Court Panel of the Plymouth Magistrates bench and other senior regional staff of the HMCTS. We provided information on our progress to date largely focussing on observations of the conduct of the community court itself.

Powerpoint presentation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Progress Report to Plymouth Magistrates Community Court Panel 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to the Community Court Panel of the Plymouth Magistrates bench and other senior regional staff of the HMCTS on research progress to date.

Invited to participate in a stakeholder meeting to inform new developments in practice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Progress Report to the Community Court Magistrates' Panel 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a short verbal progress report to the Panel of Magistrates who sit in the Community Justice Court. We reviewed our progress in relation to the four work packages. A specific focus was to gain the co-operation of the panel for our work package which aimed to aims to understand the impact of community justice on the general public.

We gained agreement to participate in a day long symposium which aimed to present our initial findings in more detail and contextualise our findings in relation to current research on community justice and problem solving. We also gained agreement for this group to participate further in our research activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Promoting Collaboration and Effectiveness in Problem Solving 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Very positive engagement by practitioners in our pilot training session.

Developing partnership with the voluntary agency to develop the training package more fully and to spin it out to other organisations involved in problem solving particularly in the criminal justice system
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Symposium on Criminal Justice in Times of Change: Incorporating a Holistic Model of Offender Advice and Support 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Background and Aims
The aims of this symposium were:
• to raise awareness of the CASS+ model of advice and support for offenders;
• to enable those with a stake in supporting and healing offenders in the Plymouth and Cornwall area to engage and identify common areas of concern and co-operation;
• to consider the transferability of the CASS+ model to other organisational settings, in particular those which have a criminal justice and health/ mental health focus.
This Symposium was held under the auspices of the School of Law, Criminology and Government. and the School of Psychology, Plymouth University and was an initiative with the Community Advice and Support Service (CASS+). CASS+ is based in the Magistrates' Courts in Plymouth, Bodmin and Truro. It has developed a clear model for advising and supporting offenders who would otherwise not be subject to supervision by statutory services as a consequence of their appearance in these courts.
CASS+ has been working in these courts for over a decade, and during this period has witnessed many reforms to the Criminal Justice System which have impacted upon the way that offenders are processed. These reforms have necessitated the development of a dynamic and agile model of practice for supporting offenders and their families which is adaptable to the changing face of criminal justice.
The most recent of these changes is the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) reforms introduced in 2013, which alters the way that offenders are managed in the community. The TR reforms established Community Rehabilitation Companies which in turn commission services from the private, voluntary and social sectors. This shift to the commissioning of services has also impacted other public sector organisations (e.g. Local Government, National Health Service). It is clear that the organisations from which services are commissioned straddle these different public sectors through their dealings with the 'same' service users. Service users do not respect these arbitrary divisions such as criminal justice, health and housing. Their needs cross-cut these divisions and it is therefore a truism that organisations which are commissioned in one sector are also likely to be relevant to being commissioned in another.
This Symposium therefore invited key stakeholders from these diverse organisations and introduced them to the CASS+ model of support, signposting and advice. This model can benefit offenders and the wider populous of the courts and can potentially be transferred to other organisations. The aim of the day was not only to raise awareness of this model but also to explore how this model can act as a 'hub' for those entering the criminal justice system and support them in addressing their needs as one step towards desistance from crime. This symposium brought together both those who commission services as well as those who provide such services with the aim of offering a forum for a constructive exchange of ideas and practices concerned with supporting offenders and their families.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhwWnKyBiIM
 
Description Training event for Community Court Magistrates 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The session helped Magistrates with little or no experience of the the Community Justice Court understand how problem solving worked and how to engage with offenders in order to identify those that might benefit. It was undertaken in collaboration with a third sector agency which manages the problem solving within the court building.

Positive feedback from court managers and magistrates. Encouragement for us to engage in this sort of training at future events.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Training for volunteers who participate in court based problem solving 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The training event involved volunteers and employees of a third sector agency which manages the problem solving aspect of the community court. As such these volunteers do not receive specific hands-on training on the issues faced by those involved in problem solving and there is a need to consider how these issues can be dealt with (e.g. how should the nature and purpose of problem solving be introduced to offenders). There was a deep involvement in the session by participants and we received very positive feedback on the relevance and importance of this sort of training. We also used the CARM (Conversation Analytic Role Play Method) as a framework for structuring the training.

We have been invited to consider how we might develop this training in partnership with the third sector agency, in particular as a means of money generation for the agency.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014