Government seeks ‘better outcomes’ by linking data on homelessness, crime and addiction

MoJ-led series of pilot programmes aim to better connect information to improve outcomes for those with complex needs
Prison bars. Credit: Michael Coghlan/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Sam Trendall

30 Jun 2022

A government programme is to collate and link data on crime, homelessness and addiction with the aim of providing improved support for people with “complex needs”.

The Better Outcomes through Linked Data (BOLD) initiative is led by the Ministry of Justice and will incorporate information from the MoJ, alongside data from the Departments of Health and Social Care and Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, as well as the Welsh Government and Public Health Wales.

Once it has been processed by “a small number of data linkers”, all data used will then be “fully and robustly de-identified” which, according to the privacy notice, is a “form of anonymisation” that involves the removal of any information – such as names, addresses and case numbers – that could identify the subject.

There is a single exception to this anonymisation which will allow probation officers to access personal information on offenders in their caseload.

“In all other cases, only de-identified data will be used to inform national level policy development and research, with no decisions taken about individuals, and no automated decision-making happening as a result,” the notice added.

The BOLD programme will initially comprise four pilot projects respectively exploring how linked data could be used to help reduce homeless; substance misuse; and reoffending; and support victims of crime.

The homelessness-focused project “aims to better understand why some people repeatedly become homeless, which services are most effective in preventing prison leavers from becoming homeless – and thereby decreasing their chances of reoffending – and what role drug treatment services can play in preventing homelessness”, according to MoJ guidance.

Data on substance misuse, meanwhile, will be connected with the aim of shedding light on “what factors drive successful rehabilitations from addiction for particular groups, such as prison leavers or rough sleepers”. The scope of this pilot will include “challenges unique to Wales”. 

“The ultimate goal is to use data and evidence to improve life outcomes for people receiving substance abuse treatment, through improving the assessment of additional needs where individuals come into contact with any government service,” the guidance added.

The reducing reoffending project will link information from different sources in a bid to “better understand the impact of specific interventions to help offenders turn their backs on crime, particularly in terms of their linked outcomes, [such as] employment, health, housing and family”, according to the MoJ.

The Victim Pathways project is intended to address the 36% of victims of crime who are dissatisfied with the way in which their case is handled by the criminal justice system. This pilot will look at “how government and third-sector services can most effectively support victims of crime to cope and recover and to confidently seek justice”, the ministry claimed.

The MoJ guidance said: “Government is responsible for supporting people with multiple complex needs such as those who are homeless, victims of crime and offenders. Often this is difficult because information about the challenges those individuals face is held across different government departments and administrations and not frequently shared. The Ministry of Justice-led BOLD programme has been created to demonstrate how people with complex needs can be better supported by linking and improving the government data held on them in a safe and secure way. BOLD will initially focus on reducing homelessness, supporting victims of crime, reducing substance misuse and reducing reoffending.”

It added: “BOLD is about using data and evidence to design better services for people, but given the volume, sensitivity and complexity of the data collected by government, BOLD takes its responsibilities to proportionately and ethically handle this data very seriously, and commits itself to robust ethical standards.”

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology.net, where this article first appeared

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