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What the Prison Reform means for re-offending rates.

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In February 2016 the David Cameron delivered the first speech solely about Prisons by a British Prime Minister in 20 years. ‘Prisons’ are a touchy subject for politicians as they have to walk a fine line between appearing ‘tough on crime’ whilst knowing that the academic research shows that simply ‘locking them up’ is not enough.

Anyone working in the Criminal Justice system will know that the government has been reforming the system for a while now (these things take time); They started with The Transforming Rehabilitation reform which saw the creation of 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies working alongside the new National Probation Service which would reward providers on a payment by results system. My colleague Javid wrote more about this which you can read by clicking here.

In his speech Mr Cameron laid out the facts and figures about prisons & then gave us a four point strategy to reform the system;
1. “Give much greater autonomy to the professionals who work in our public services, and allow new providers and new ideas to flourish.
2. Hold these providers and professionals to account with real transparency over outcomes.
3. Intervene decisively and dramatically to deal with persistent failure, or to fix the underlying problems people may have.
4. Use the latest behavioural insights evidence and harness new technology to deliver better outcomes.”

Why? Well, currently there are over 80,000 offenders in prison and the re-offending rates of those released from prison are high, at 45.8% (adults) and 67.1% (young offenders). That’s almost half of all offenders sentenced to custody going on to commit further crimes - To say that rehabilitation needs to start during this time in custody, is an understatement.

So how will reform achieve this? I hear you ask. Well, it would appear that the proposed reform is looking at addressing earlier findings from the MoJ’s 2013 Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction (SPCR) longitudinal cohort study of Prisoners.

The study found that as well as offending history, there were several factors related to an offender’s experience in the community prior to/after custody that would indicate the likelihood of reoffending. Offenders who found themselves in insecure/temporary accommodation in the 12months prior to/after detention were much more likely to reoffend that those who had permanent residencies, as were those who had issues with using Class A drugs in the same time frame. The study also highlighted that those who were employed in the 12 months prior to a custodial sentence, were less likely to reoffend. In terms of employment, of all those who participated in the study, only 28% had obtained paid work since their release and of those 39% went on to commit further crimes. Whilst seemingly high, this was significantly less than those who had not secured employment after custody (59%).

The reform is looking to emphasise rehabilitation in the prison service by taking more action on drugs, extending Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) and giving prison governors more control on their education budgets. There are other areas of improvement, but these alone are encouraging in that they are directly addressing the above findings of the SPCR study.

Legal highs/New Psychoactive Substances in the prison system have been known to fuel violence and debt between offenders, and well as being suspected factors in self-inflicted deaths. In taking more action on drugs and criminalising legal-highs in prison, not only will we hopefully see a reduction in cases of violence between offenders, but we will hopefully also see the prison environment become one where those who previously had issues with substance misuse can rehabilitate. Therefore minimising the temptation outside prison to return to drug misuse.

The extension of ROTL is a promising on several levels, including the employment and accommodation front. It will enable eligible prisoners to go out for job interviews in hope of securing roles for their release, as well as facilitating them in obtaining accommodation in the community once they have served their sentence. Being that the SPCR study found that a lack of accommodation and/or employment after custody could be identified as good predictors of re-offending, addressing this through ROTL will be instrumental in driving down the current re-offending rates. Furthermore, ROTL will enable offenders to renew family ties, which is crucial to rehabilitation as the study also found that those who received family visits were less likely to re-offend.

Prison governors being given more autonomy essentially means that prisons can finally address the issues and needs of their inhabitants and be run in the most beneficial way possible. Autonomy will allow creativity to flourish as governors can bring in relevant education training companies/workshops to work with their offenders and help them to obtain relevant qualifications. This will ultimately aid offenders in gaining employment when released back into the community, and making valuable contributions to society.

Taken in conjunction with the promise of building nine new prisons (five to be opened by 2020) with new facilities to fully enable changes in how offenders are rehabilitated, Prison reform as a whole is looking pretty positive. If addressing the above issues, is successful in practice, we should hopefully begin to see a reduction in reoffending rates.
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