Unlocking criminal justice data
Last month, ADR Scotland hosted an online event on unlocking criminal justice data. The event attracted researchers and practitioners from a wide range of organisations, including universities, justice organisations and the Scottish and UK Government. They came together to discuss early findings from the exciting research projects using administrative data from the Data First programme. Many attendees expressed how inspired they were by the research showcased and the enormous opportunities for future studies.
What is Data First?
Data First is an ambitious data linkage programme led by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and funded by ADR UK. It aims to unlock the potential of linked administrative data across MoJ agencies and other government departments for research that informs policies and improves the outcomes and experiences of justice users. The MoJ Data First programme creates research-ready administrative datasets (that have been de-identified, de-duplicated and linked) for analysis by government and accredited academic researchers in an ethical and safe manner.
What does Data First mean for Scotland?
Unfortunately, there is no equivalent initiative to Data First in Scotland. The data required to create a Scottish Data First is held by multiple organisations which makes negotiating access very complex. In addition, increasing justice data availability in Scotland is only one of a set of competing priorities being considered by the Scottish Government, so any planned data linkage is likely to take some time to achieve.
Still, there is much to be learned from the experience of the Data First programme in terms of drawing inspiration for the future. Many of the issues and problems impacting on justice systems in England and Wales are also observed in Scotland. The emerging research can therefore help in considering what might be the most useful work to initiate in Scotland when data availability allows. Such learning will help “capitalise on the infrastructure already in place between ADR Scotland and Research Data Scotland to create something really exciting for Scotland” noted Amy Wilson, Head of Justice Analytical Services at the Scottish Government.
Showcasing emerging research
The event focused offered a great opportunity for researchers and practitioners to discuss some of the challenges facing criminal justice today. It was co-organised with Data First’s academic lead, Professor Andromachi Tseloni, who spoke alongside several MoJ social researchers and statisticians:
- Amy Summerfield, MoJ’s Head of Evidence and Partnerships, talked about the necessity of data linking for the public good and reflected on some of the challenges. Her talk provided an overview of what has been achieved to date and MoJ’s Data First plans for the next three years.
- Professor Tseloni presented on the frequency, offence patterns and locality of returning defendants to the criminal courts. She drew on findings from her collaborative and ONS-award winning MoJ-led Data First Criminal Courts research report.
- MoJ statisticians presented their findings on the links between education, children’s social care and offending from their MoJ-Department for Education statistics publication. They highlighted that a high proportion of justice users have special educational needs, but the link between permanent exclusions and serious violence may not be as clear cut as generally perceived.
ADR UK is funding a number of fellowships using MoJ Data First data, which are shining a light on the experiences and outcomes of people using the justice system as well as data limitations and needs for improvements at source. Attendees at the event heard from the following ADR UK funded Research Fellows:
- Dr Tim McSweeney described his preliminary findings on the extent, nature and outcomes of serious and organised crime cases prosecuted through the courts in England and Wales.
- Dr Angela Sorsby discussed the results of her investigation into gender and race inequalities in sentencing practice in England and Wales.
- Dr Katie Hunter illustrated the relationships between ethnicity, care experience and youth justice involvement, and stressed the importance of looking at data on race, gender, deprivation and care experience through the lens of intersectionality.
Dr Katie Hunter – ADR UK Research Fellow said: “I was delighted to take part in the event bringing together researchers who share a passion for using the datasets. There were a range of disciplines represented and speakers at various stages of their careers. As an ECR (early career researcher), I felt welcome and inspired to continue my work on admin data.”
This item is an abridged version of an article originally published on the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR) website. Visit SCADR to read the full article.