The Future of Criminal Justice: Embracing Technology and Addressing Challenges

Jessica Kimbell, GovNet
Oct 24, 2023

What’s next for the criminal justice system? Today, there’s a growing emphasis on how technology and digital solutions can enhance and support a criminal justice system affected by external challenges, such as COVID-19 and societal change. 

These ideas were explored in ’The Future of Criminal Justice’ seminar, presented at the Modernising Criminal Justice Conference 2021

Delivered by Claire Gibson, Director at Deloitte MCS Limited and Tom Gash, Managing Director of Leapwise, the talk addressed the global challenges affecting the justice system, both now and in the future. They explored:

  • The impact of COVID-19 on the criminal justice system
  • Innovative solutions to challenges the system currently faces
  • A leadership framework designed to help those working in the criminal justice sector navigate and respond to change

This blog covers the topics explored by Claire and Tom in their seminar, which you can watch by scrolling to the bottom. 

What Are The Biggest Trends for Criminal Justice?

The criminal justice sector faces several challenges and changes, including:

  • How COVID-19 has affected the day-to-day running of the sector
  • The need to create a more diverse justice systems
  • How new and advanced technologies are improving systems
  • Societal, political and economic changes 

COVID-19 has been one of the most impactful of these, with major policy changes initiated by justice leaders, such as remote or ‘bubble’ working, virtual courts, early release, virtual visits and revised guidance on charging decisions.

All this was done to keep people safe while also reducing the pressures on systems, so the criminal justice system could maintain its performance. A key part of this has been the shift to virtual justice.

“Many justice systems across the world have been paying attention to delivering justice virtually in the future, but not many have taken it to the full degree. Take Ireland as an example. Pre-COVID, 6% of preliminary hearings were delivered virtually, as compared to 64% during COVID.”

Tom goes on to cover the unexpected positives experienced by the justice system in this time. One trend present in many nations is the relative decrease in crime rate:

“In general, it appears that crimes in the public sphere and relating to the night-time economy fell most dramatically. But some of the most serious crime types (for example, homicide) have not fallen [or certainly not as much].”
Covid-19 and the Criminal Justice System
Deloitte 2020, T. Gash, A. Guha, C. Gibson

There have been significant reductions in the demand for criminal justice services. There was also a notable causative correlation between countries with more stringent COVID-19 responses and an average decline in crime. 

There was also a radical policy change when it came to release dates. In many countries, prisoners who weren't yet at the end of their prison sentence were released to relieve pressure upon the prison system. In Canada, the prison population fell by 16%. In the US, it fell by 25%.

However, Tom also mentions the pandemic exacerbated long-term challenges such as court backlogs and high recidivism rates.

How Can Technology Help to Address Challenges Faced by Criminal Justice Systems?

There are several opportunities afforded by technology:

  • Virtual prisons
  • Virtual rehabilitation
  • The use of digital twins to address criminal justice backlog

These are potential solutions to some of the issues faced by prisons today. Claire touches on these:

“Prisons, despite many improvements over the years, are still really costly and relatively ineffective in reducing crime… The annual costs per prisoner ranges from $20,000 to $100,000 per year. There could be alternatives for certain types of crimes.”

There are available technologies that could help criminal justice systems perform their duties, such as:

  • Geotagging
  • Electronic monitoring
  • Augmented reality
  • Desistance platforms

However, using technology is still a highly contentious subject. “It would require bold and innovative movements by governments and huge engagement with society, and it would require a heavy look at ethics.”

Desistance platforms are a crucial part of this movement. Through these, and a wider focus on a digital justice ecosystem, the hope is to create:

  • A digitally-enabled approach that would address the cost of incarceration and reduce recidivism
  • Continuity for offenders and better chances when they come out of their sentences
  • Improved risk modelling and decision support

A key thing to remember is digital solutions rarely provide incredible transformational change if onboarded in the wrong context. To get the most from these solutions, they need to sit within an effective digital justice ecosystem.

Enabling Digital Justice Systems

Enabling Digital Justice Systems Through Technology and Novel Approaches

So what are the critical components of a digital justice ecosystem?

  1. Data must be at the heart of the system
  2. There should be analytics leveraged at every level
  3. Platforms and services should be human-centric

“The criminal justice system is heavily born by data, is driven by information and that’s often fragmented and hard to access. When you think about some of the high-risk parts of the justice system, pulling on probation as an example, where probation officers are responsible for looking after high, medium and low-risk offenders in society - they really rely on up-to-date data.”

“With the advancement in cloud technology and the architecture that sits around it, there is now a full-scale ability to house unlimited data in a secure environment and give access to those who need it.”

 “The justice system moving forward has got a blend of human-centered services and platforms to design out.”

Additionally, there's now more emphasis on collaboration between multiple agencies when it comes to delivering justice. Some of these agencies aren't necessarily part of the justice system itself, such as healthcare provisions for victims of attacks. The coordination of these agencies and services is vital when providing the best possible criminal justice process for all involved. 

Changes to Leadership and Planning for Change

Changes and challenges to and within the criminal justice system require a different way of leading and thinking. It begins by building a coalition of trust and collaboration, then using that coalition to develop systems that take a local, user view to grasp insight and focus. In turn, this helps stakeholders to understand the critical boundaries and system dynamics present in criminal justice overall, rather than viewing things in silos. 

Then there must be planning for impact through experimentation and aligning for impact, where objectives, budgets and incentives are built with impact in mind. Through all of this, the course of criminal justice can change to one that deals with the problems faced at the moment, while preparing for the future. 


This blog covers a small amount of what Claire and Tom explore. If you'd like to watch the seminar in full, watch the video below: