The idea for this paper came from my experience of working on a rehabilitation project in Springhill Prison, Buckinghamshire in 2011-12. During that time I gained an insight into the difficulties that offenders face when they are released from prison, and was surprised at the limited support available to those recently released.
I saw at first hand some of the coalition government’s policies at work, and had the opportunity to engage with offenders at the critical juncture, just after they are released from prison. My experience showed me that current and past government policy aimed at reducing reoffending has not worked. Unfortunately, on a national level the evidence points to the same conclusion.
The authors of this paper have lived through an era in which stigma and hostility towards offenders is not only commonplace, but pervades public discourse on crime and punishment. During the last 20 years, political rhetoric on law and order has been dominated by the mantra ‘tough on crime’. However, since the peak in crime during the 1990s, the crime rate within England and Wales has halved. ‘Tough on crime’ rhetoric is no longer as relevant as it once was. This presents us with an opportunity for dialogue and discussion about the direction we are heading in, and the vision we have for the criminal justice system as a whole.
Our experiences working in the third sector, on rehabilitation programmes and in human rights, have led us to question the punitive approach. Although crime rates have dropped, the reoffending rate within England and Wales stands at almost 50%. This shows that in spite of punitive measures, prison is not deterring offenders from recommitting crime. The Conservative Party recognised the need to redress the balance in favour of a rehabilitative approach in their 2008 policy paper, ‘Prisons with a Purpose’. However, the policies enacted under the coalition government have not lived up to this promise.
The best way to prevent reoffending is of course to prevent offending in the first place, through addressing the root societal causes of crime. However, focusing upon those who have already fallen on the wrong side of the law, in this paper we will argue for a shift in attitudes, away from punishment and retribution towards reconciliation and rehabilitation. There are glimmers of hope in the numerous pilots and projects run throughout the country that offer support to offenders re-entering the community and have a genuine impact upon rates of recidivism. Through this paper we hope to show where government policy is currently going wrong, highlight successful initiatives and to make suggestions that build upon these and other positive examples so as to create a Criminal Justice System that helps people to turn their lives around.
The prison population currently stands at around 84,000. This constitutes a 100% increase on the 1993 prison population.
During this time the rate of reoffending has remained stubbornly high, with about 50% of offenders reoffending within a year of release from prison.
The reoffending rate has remained consistent despite a range of initiatives and policies aimed at tackling this problem.
The Cost of Reoffending
Reoffending in England and Wales is estimated to cost the economy £9-13 billion every year.
Reoffending is helping to maintain the high prison population and significantly contributing to the amount of crime.
Each new prison place costs £170,000 to build. The average cost per prisoner per year is around £40,000.
We propose that the government sponsor a Royal Commission on the CJS, and reoffending in particular, in order to reframe the debate and divorce policy from party politics.
Policy should be directed toward greater levels of support for those leaving prison. This should include:
- The creation of a national offender support scheme.
- A renewed emphasis on the social work aspect of probation work.
- The marketisation of the probation services deserves further consideration before being rolled out nationally. The government should wait for the result of pilot projects and give due weight to consultations.
- The Prisoners’ Earning Act is counterproductive, it should be repealed.
Josephine Delves and Robert Norfolk-Whittaker