Fifteen Years Wasted?

July 2002: The newly formed Social Exclusion Unit released their report “Reducing re-offending by ex-offenders”.  At the time, this felt ground-breaking.  It provided a detailed analysis of the problem (50% re-offended within two years of release), and suggested a series of areas (the pathways) for improvement.  This report resulted in a transformation of the ways prison and probation operated, including new groups to manage the different pathways.

I have returned to working in criminal justice after a gap of 4 years, and I am struck by how little has changed.  The data has improved, and the time period is now 12 months, rather than two years.  For the latest period (Apr-Jun 2016), average re-offending rate is just over 28%, a fall of 4 percentage points over the decade.

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Overall, it looks quite disappointing.  A large number of people leave prison and re-offend.  Prisons are clearly still failing to rehabilitate, despite this being one of the stated purposes (reiterated by David Gauke, the Minister of Justice in a speech in March 2018).  In a rather flaccid speech, the Minister emphasised the importance of rehabilitation, but then equated it with compliance of prison rules.  His speech ended with a statement on the importance of work, and an announcement:

“I can announce today that I will be convening a cross-government group of senior Ministers, with the full backing of the Prime Minister, to work across all relevant departments to reduce re-offending and the £15 billion cost of re-offending to society as a whole.

This approach means that we can target prisoners and ex-offenders with the support they need to find a job, a home, to get help with debt, or to get treatment for a drug addiction or, as I mentioned earlier, a mental health issue.”

I’m really not sure we’ve made much progress in 15 years. 

 In some further articles I will discuss reasons why re-offending remains so high, and propose an alternative way forward.