Can technology eliminate crime?

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Written by Jonathan Ley, CEO & Founder, Make Time Count

I’d like to tell you my story of how an initial consulting project with London Probation led to the creation of a technology platform changing the face of criminal justice and society. 

My name is Jonathan Ley and I’m the founder of Make Time Count. I spent 15 years with Accenture and Deutsche Bank leading projects for large organisations. The outcome was generally slightly more money for companies that didn’t really care. In 2018 I was asked to review operations at the London Probation Service – my first exposure to Criminal Justice or the government sector. I never expected the impact this experience would have on me.

Shock is the best word to describe my initial reaction. 

Shock at the way people are treated.  

Shock at the processes, perhaps not designed to make people fail, but certainly not designed to make it easy for them to succeed.

Shock at the dearth of technology. 

There must be a better way. So I just talked to probation officers and people on probation. 

“How can I help?” was my simple question. 

 

The first thing I noticed was that the people on probation viewed me with suspicion. I realised that these folks were rarely “asked” and more often “told” what to do. It took some time to break down these barriers. 

I learned so much from these conversations. Most of the individuals I met were not bad people, just had a bad start, or made a bad decision – we’ve all made those. Many were hard working, with strong entrepreneurial streaks, but they had perhaps used these talents in a way incompatible with UK law!  

Many were really no different to me, I just got lucky. I was adopted at three and had that not happened, chances are, I would have ended up on probation. I identified with their stories. Recognised so much wasted potential. 

Then I began to research more into this sector and was amazed how expensive and ineffective it is: 

The UK spends £39billion on “Public Order and Safety.”  

Crime costs the UK economy an estimated £100bn per year. 

Despite all this spending, it isn’t really working. 

  • Overall reoffending rates are 30%
  • If the person serves a prison sentence less than 12 months, this rises to 60%!
  • 50% of people sentenced to prison have 15 or more convictions. That’s 15 failed attempts at rehabilitation. 
  • 25% of those we release from prison we “recall” (send back), often for administrative reasons, not for reoffending. 
  • An estimated 7.5 million people per annum are victims of crime.

 

Imagine if other sectors had a 30% failure rate. What if 400 aeroplanes taking off from Heathrow today landed at the wrong airport. Imagine if 4 million NHS procedures per year resulted in complications. 

This gave me the big idea. Perhaps there was a better way? They say “it takes a village to raise a child”. What if it takes a “community to support a survivor or rehabilitate an offender”? 

Let’s use technology and the power of data science to connect people, understand what works and have an enormous impact on reoffending. And so Make Time Count was born.

When we first launched our product with the UK’s probation service in 2020, we were described as a “gamechanger”. Since then we began to look at the way police operate, transferring our learnings from probation to policing. 

In 2021 we won an InnovateUK grant to continue developing our platform for the police. One assessor described us as a “project of immense societal value”. We also won a police STAR grant to help with the roll-out. Our police sponsor in the Metropolitan Police Service said that our project “will revolutionise policing in this country”. 

More than just creating products, I realised that Make Time Count had to be established with a strong purpose to make a difference. Our mission has two parts:

  1. Build digital solutions that help vulnerable people. Help connect people with those agencies that can help them get through a tough phase without further sanction.
  2. Given the people I’ve met in this space, our mission is to reinvest 51% of profits to support vulnerable people start businesses. Those businesses must share our vision. Creating a virtuous circle of opportunity for vulnerable people within society. 

 

People ask me, “What’s your vision for Make Time Count”? 

Fast forward to 2035. Diversion has become the cornerstone of the criminal justice system. 

Enshrined in the 2032 Crime Diversion Act, which states, every user interaction, from the first arrest, must be focussed on dealing with working on the root cause of their issues. Underpinned by data about what actually works, not what we think works.

Victims are treated as the centre point of our criminal justice system. 

30% of the UK’s police forces are now trained counsellors and support workers responsible for understanding the root cause of offending to avoid a further offence. 

UK reoffending rates are the envy of the world and are lower than other countries such as Norway. 

Incarceration rates are the same as Holland and we’ve closed half our prisons. 

Instead of seven million victims of crime, we have reduced this to five million. Still too high, but on the right path. 

Make Time Count is now a leading global supplier of software, advanced data analytics and now also hardware. 

Make Time Count’s “Chances” Fund has reinvested £12m in businesses started by vulnerable people. These businesses now employ over 1,000 people in various sectors. Each one of these businesses has signed up to the Chances Fund Principles of  “pay it forward”. The”Chances” fund receives £1.2m from these businesses every year to reinvest and has thus created a self sustaining virtuous circle of opportunity in the UK. 

Perhaps this is a pipe dream, but even if, in twenty years, we can sit back and say, “Make Time Count made a 1% difference” in reoffending, I will call that a success.

Just 1%? Well that’s worth £1bn to the UK every year – that’s a success!

Hopefully I am not alone. Perhaps there are 20 or 30 or even 50 ideas out there that all can make a 1% difference. Add them together and we’ve transformed society.

Technology has fundamentally changed so much of our lives in such a short time, and not always for the better. I believe we’ve barely scratched the surface about how tech can improve outcomes for everybody in society. Improve the outlook for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people and prevent millions becoming victims of crime. That’s my mission.

 

You can watch the my talk from Digital Leaders Week on demand here ‘Connected Justice – Working together to break the cycle of re-offending’


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