The Department of Home Affairs is continuing to drive forward the modernisation of the criminal justice system as part of its commitment to maintaining public safety in the Isle of Man.
Responding to a series of Tynwald questions, the Department said a strong focus of the reforms is on improving key policy areas in respect of crime prevention, sentencing and the rehabilitation of offenders.
Alternatives to custody, including restorative justice and community-based sentences, are being explored as a way of reducing the social and economic cost of crime. There is also a renewed emphasis on victims and witnesses, in line with the Isle of Man Government’s national priority of protecting vulnerable people.
The Department’s flagship Criminal Justice Strategy is continuing to identify opportunities to enhance processes, streamline administration and reduce the number of low-level offences appearing before the courts.
The improvements are being led by the Criminal Justice Board, comprising the heads of the Department of Home Affairs, the Constabulary, General Registry, Attorney General’s Chambers and Prison and Probation Service, together with representation from the Isle of Man Law Society.
Home Affairs Minister Juan Watterson MHK says the proposed new Sentencing Bill, which is currently at an advanced stage of planning, will be a significant step in terms of increasing the non-custodial options available to the courts.
He said: ‘We must look at modern approaches to justice, as there is a growing recognition that prison should be reserved only for the most serious and persistent offenders. Restorative justice and community service are in no way soft options. They provide constructive ways for offenders to make amends for the harm they have caused.’
He added: ‘For some, prison serves as nothing more than a brief interlude in a life of crime. Alternative sentences can be effective in addressing the root causes of reoffending; and a reduction in crime means fewer victims and safer communities.’
The Prison and Probation Service has a key role to play in the process, with projects in place to assist the overall rehabilitation of offenders. This includes a restorative justice programme run by PrisonWorks, a volunteer-led organisation that last year won the prestigious Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Rehabilitation in recognition of its ‘outstanding’ work with Isle of Man offenders.
Minister Watterson said: ‘Recidivism rates in the Isle of Man have been comparable with the UK at about 25%, but we need to change our toolkit to change this figure, not just provide more of the same.’
Despite cuts in the prison education budget, a consistently high percentage of prisoners (45 to 50%) are taking part in lessons to improve their numeracy, literacy and computer skills, as well as in sessions on personal and social education, cookery, art and craft. Prisoners can study for nationally recognised qualifications, including GCSEs and A levels, in a number of subjects.
The prison also provides a range of constructive activities, including jobs in the kitchen, laundry or gardens and low-skill, high-volume work in conjunction with local organisations. This provides purpose and structure to a prisoner’s day and helps to maintain discipline and safety. There is also the potential for offenders to learn vocational skills that help them on their release from prison.
Minister Watterson said: ‘It is vital that offenders are appropriately dealt with for their crimes, but keeping them locked up all day is not usually the answer. Improving prisoners’ basic education and practical skills makes a positive difference to their ability to settle back into the community. Finances are tight, but we are working more effectively to achieve the same outcomes with fewer resources.’
He added: ‘We see rehabilitation as a fundamental part of our efforts to break the offending cycle, lower crime rates and maintain the Isle of Man’s reputation for being one of the safest places to live in the British Isles.’