By Tony Collins
After decades of attempts to join up criminal justice systems, and hundreds of millions of pounds spent on attempts to integrate IT, such as “Libra”, there is still no single case management system that can pass offenders’ files seamlessly from the police to the prosecution, through the courts, and to the prison and probation system.
In the police service IT is particularly fragmented. There are 2,000 IT systems in use – 300 separate systems in the Metropolitan Police alone.
Meanwhile large companies such as Serco and G4S hold major contracts across the Departments’ activities creating the problem of “over-dependency on a small number of contractors who could become too big to fail”, says the Public Accounts Committee chairman Margaret Hodge. Her committee publishes a report today The Criminal Justice System.
Major suppliers have benefited from big contracts but criminal justice IT integration seems almost as far away as it was 20 years ago.
A new administration may be tempted to embark on the equivalent of an NHS IT programme for criminal justice, which is not a good idea. A grand plan for integrating criminal justice IT has already been tried at a cost of more than £1bn – called Criminal Justice IT.
Instead of lamenting how bad things are perhaps there should be an acceptance by a new administration that joining up criminal justice IT is never going to happen and it’s best to improve incrementally without a grand plan, which is what is happening now.
The problem with joined up IT is not the technology but the scale of business process change. It’s unlikely that all agencies could cope.
Indeed today’s Public Accounts Committee report says that “prosecutors have reported that it takes significantly longer to process work digitally rather than on paper”.