Harnessing the potential of linked administrative data for the justice system

Categories: Data linkage programmes, Blogs, Datasets, ADR England, Office for National Statistics, Crime & justice

Written by Adrian Richards 6 March 2020

The MoJ faces some of the most difficult challenges in government in looking for ways to reduce the harm faced by people who interact with the justice system. Understanding people and how they interact with society and government systems is a vital part of seeing if and how we can change behaviour and outcomes. 

Like many other government departments, MoJ needs to use data more effectively to achieve our goal of substantially improving outcomes. By also enabling accredited researchers to use this data in a safe, ethical and responsible way, we can develop our understanding of our justice system users, providing evidence to underpin government policies and driving real progress in tackling social policy issues. 

A huge step towards this goal is the new and exciting partnership with ADR UK on our Data First project. Data First is an ambitious and pioneering data-linking programme which aims to unlock the potential of the wealth of data already created by MoJ, by linking administrative datasets from across the civil, family and justice systems in England and Wales. The project will also facilitate further linking with other government departments, such as the Department for Education, to understand how users interact with public services across government. 

Data First is one of ADR UK’s first significant investments with a large Whitehall department. There are several reasons why this is particularly exciting. This project encourages a new collaborative way of working between government and our external networks, especially academia. We will continually share our lessons learnt throughout the project, and we hope our success will encourage other departments to do the same. 

Data First will work towards facilitating access to fully anonymised, research-ready datasets for accredited researchers working on approved projects via secure systems such as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Secure Research Service (SRS). By working in partnership with independent and expert academics to facilitate and promote research in the justice space, we will be able to build a picture of the characteristics of justice system users and how they interact over time with the civil, family and criminal courts. 

This research will help us to address key evidence gaps that may not have been possible without ADR UK’s investment, such as: what are the characteristics of the population that repeatedly come into contact with the justice system? Are there any patterns among populations who use both the criminal and family courts? 

This insight will help to underpin our work to understand ‘what works’ and inform the development of government policies, local practices and services to facilitate swift access to justice, improve user experience of the system, and lead to more positive and sustainable outcomes by reducing repeat use of the justice system. 

Linking MoJ data with that of other departments will develop our understanding of how people interact with other government services, and their pathways and outcomes across a range of health, education, justice and welfare events. 

We want to be able to use the data we hold within MoJ for the public good, and this project is essential in allowing this to happen. We are really excited about realising the potential of the work and look forward to keeping you updated on our joint progress. 

To learn more visit our Data First project page.

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