Dr Natalie Mann from ARU’s Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER) explains the very personal motivation behind PIER’s latest research into the monitoring of sexual and violent offenders across England and Wales.
'The thing about a MAPPA is that you hear very little about it until it goes wrong – and when it goes wrong, it goes catastrophically wrong,' says Dr Mann, who is explaining some ground-breaking research into the effectiveness of Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements – or MAPPA – which were set up 21 years ago to improve the monitoring of convicted sexual and violent offenders in the community across England and Wales.
Currently, the number of offenders in England and Wales subject to MAPPA stands at 85,709.
One of those cases that went catastrophically wrong was that of convicted terrorist Usman Khan. In November 2019, Khan brutally murdered two Cambridge students – Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt – at Fishmongers’ Hall near London Bridge.
'Our research into MAPPA has a special place for us because we taught Saskia,' says Dr Mann, Senior Research Fellow at ARU’s Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER).
'The offender who committed that terror act was a MAPPA offender,' she adds. 'He was a perfect example of somebody who was really compliant, had done all the therapeutic interventions in prison and was presenting as low risk enough to travel on his own to London. But behind the scenes he was quietly going about plotting a really horrific attack.'
An inquest into the Fishmongers’ Hall attack subsequently found that key pieces of information about Khan were not shared between the MAPPA agencies – which include the Police, the National Probation Service and the Prison Service – before the decision was made that he could travel to London unaccompanied.
'It’s a good example of where information just wasn’t shared consistently or appropriately,' says Dr Mann, who was a lecturer in ARU’s Criminology department until she moved to PIER in 2017. 'Every agency brings a piece to the puzzle to give a picture of someone’s overall risk. If you don’t have all the information, or you simply don’t know the information, you can’t possibly predict someone’s risk.'
It was with some of these failings in mind – and in Saskia’s memory – that Dr Mann, together with the Director of PIER Prof Samantha Lundrigan, embarked on the largest study ever into the MAPPA’s effectiveness in January 2020.
'What we’re doing in this two-year project that hasn’t been done before is looking at how well the actual process works in terms of information sharing,' explains Dr Mann. 'And we’re also looking at data around further offending by MAPPA offenders.'
Funded by the Dawes Trust, Dr Mann and Professor Lundrigan have set about gathering a highly sensitive dataset of all the 85,700+ MAPPA offenders across England and Wales dating back to 2014 – bringing together highly confidential information for the first time to track reoffending patterns. The results will be published in April 2022.
'One of the main things we’re doing is looking at the proven reoffending rate and the level of harm to society,' says Dr Mann. 'That’s going to allow us to be much more flexible in understanding the way MAPPA is effective.'
'MAPPA is all about protecting the public from serious further offending,' she adds. 'Looking at the level of harm created is a really interesting indicator of success. That’s something that’s never been done before. We’ll be able to look at the level of harm people’s reoffending causes – whether it goes up or down, stays the same, or is dramatically reduced.'
As well as creating a unique set of data, they have also been talking to key players from the 42 MAPPA regions across England and Wales to share best practice and to look at areas for improvement, against a backdrop of an increasing case load and cuts to services.
'This is really high impact research, which is why it’s so important that we do it really well and make sure we’re taking everyone’s views into account,' says Dr Mann. 'It’s really important that learning is shared back to the agencies, because they want to do the best job they can possibly do.'
'And if there’s any way we can improve things, that’s going to be so important for us because we’ve had such close experience of how things can go wrong,' she says. 'That’s why it’s so important that MAPPA is as effective as possible.'
'We wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to do this research,' adds Dr Mann. 'It felt like it had to be us doing it, which is why it means such a lot to us both.'