Improve rehabilitation

High rates of reoffending: Improve rehabilitation

Relationship to poverty/ inequality mechanisms High rates of economic inequality have been found to be linked to harsher punitive preferences (punishment rather than rehabilitation). Lack of rehabilitation which contributes to high rates of reoffending and increases the long-run risk of poverty among ex-offenders, negatively impacts victims of crime and leads to high social and economic costs to society. Read more
Party political support All main political parties have expressed support for improved rehabilitation to reduce reoffending. A desire to portray themselves to the electorate as “tough on crime” is likely to be a factor limited progress. Read more
Type of intervention Public expenditure.
Level Sub-national (Law and order is a devolved matter outside England and Wales)Read more
Public support Research on public attitudes has found that although the public’s opinions on punishment and rehabilitation are complex and sometimes contradictory, they are in general much less punitive than is often thought to be the case. Over half have expressed the view that extending rehabilitation is important because it reduces reoffending and nearly 40% because prisoners deserve a second-chance. Read more
Evidence of effectiveness International evidence suggests that penal systems which place a greater emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment manage to achieve much lower reoffending rates. Moving to a similar system would involve a wholesale restructuring and would require public support. Reducing reoffending is likely to involve more than improving rehabilitation in prisons, with better support for prison leavers. Although some have expressed the view that prisons aren’t suitable places for rehabilitation and others have pointed out that addressing the causes of crime are often outside of the remit of prisons, there is a growing evidence base on forms of rehabilitation which are associated with lower reoffending rates. Helping to increase the chance of prisoners finding work on release through increasing participation on education and training activities, or engaging in work activities in prison or on temporary release have been shown to be effective. In addition, helping prisoners on their release with accommodation, claiming benefit entitlements and engaging with appropriate services also help to reduce reoffending. Read more
Cost Medium – but would need to take into account any reduction in the costs associated with lower reoffending. Read more
Overall Effective improvements to rehabilitation are likely to require a better understanding of what causes crime and how best to reduce reoffending while respecting the suffering of victims. Some forms of rehabilitation are already known to be effective: improving prisoners’ education and skills, engaging them in work activities both inside the prison and while on temporary release, and sending those addicted to drugs and alcohol on tailored programmes. Assisting prisoners on their release to secure accommodation, find work or claim benefits and engage with the appropriate services all help reduce reoffending. Official inspection reports are critical of the lack of rehabilitation that is happening in prisons and the governments model of contracting out rehabilitation to private providers for low risk prisoners, has so far failed to be effective. All political parties support rehabilitation to reduce reoffending and the public attitudes, although complex and sometimes contradictory, are in general much less punitive than is often thought to be the case, expressing support for rehabilitation and giving prisoners a second chance.

High rates of reoffending

4. Improve rehabilitation

4.1 Relationship to poverty/ inequality mechanisms

High rates of economic inequality have been found to be linked to harsher punitive preferences with a focus on punishment rather than rehabilitation. Cross-country research on differences in punitiveness finds that income inequality has significant explanatory power, with tougher attitudes towards sentencing in the English speaking/common law countries fully explained by higher levels of income inequality in these countries (Van Kesteren, 2009). Since the 1990s overall crime rates in England and Wales have declined while prison populations have soared, which some see as proof that ‘prison works’ (Duque and McKnight, 2019). However, evidence disputes the claim that increasing incarceration is the main cause of falling crime rates and a review of the relationship between incarceration and crime levels estimated that the 22% increase in the prison population in England and Wales between 1997 and 2002 only contributed to a 5% reduction in crime over the same period even though overall crime fell by 30% (Carter, 2003). In 2012, the National Audit Office, in a comparison of international criminal justice systems across a number of advanced democratic nations, reported that there is no consistent correlation between prison numbers and levels of crime (NAO, 2012).

Effective rehabilitation could reduce existing high rates of reoffending and thereby reduce crime rates and the long-run risk of poverty among ex-offenders. Improved rehabilitation would reduce the high social and economic costs to society of high rates of reoffending.

Better investment in rehabilitation that led to lower reoffending rates would reduce these costs. Improving rehabilitation and reducing reoffending not only has benefits for societies (cost and impact on victims) but has the potential to reduce the long-run risk of poverty among ex-offenders.

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4.2 Party Political Support

In 2014/15 the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government introduced major structural reforms to the probation system in a set of reforms known as Transforming Rehabilitation. These included changes to who delivers probation services, who receives the services and when, and what is delivered as part of probation. The reforms also extended statutory rehabilitation to offenders serving custodial sentences of less than 12 months.

The delivery of probation services was split between the National Probation Service (offenders at high risk of harm) and Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) (low and medium risk offenders). Outsourced probation services to private and voluntary sector providers was on the basis of a payment-by-results model (which included service fees). The hope was that the private and voluntary sector providers would introduce innovative rehabilitation services and be incentivised to reduce reoffending rates through a payment-by-results model (which included service fees).

The Labour Party, in there 2019 general election manifesto, said that they would consider the evidence on effective rehabilitation, particularly for prolific offenders. They pledged to reunify probation and guaranteed a publicly run, locally accountable probation service.

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4.3 Type of intervention

Legislation/Public expenditure.

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4.4 Level

Sub-national (Law and order is a devolved matter outside England and Wales).

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4.5 Public Support

Research on public attitudes has found that although the public’s opinions on punishment and rehabilitation are complex and sometimes contradictory, they are in general much less punitive than is often thought to be the case (Esmée Fairbairn, 2005). In opinion polls and focus groups the public has been found to express support for drug rehabilitation and education programmes for young offenders.

In a 2001 Ipos MORI poll the majority of respondents reported that they thought better parenting 60% would do most to reduce crime, 55% thought more police, 45% thought better school discipline and 41% thought more constructive activities for young people and more police on the beat, with only 8% suggesting more offenders in prison as the answer (Ipsos MORI, 2001). 53% strongly/tend to agree that people come out of prison worse than they go in (Ipsos MORI, 2001).

In 2015 an opinion poll conducted by OnePoll found that 83% of respondents supported the government’s plan to provide statutory rehabilitation on release for all offenders sentenced to less than 12 months in custody; 54% supported the policy because they believed it would reduce reoffending and 38% supported it because they believed that ex-prisoners deserve another chance (OnePoll, 2015).

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4.6 Evidence of effectiveness

In broad terms there is strong evidence that a country’s approach to offender rehabilitation can be effective at reducing reoffending. Scandinavian countries which have a much stronger focus on rehabilitation of prisoners rather than punishment, manage to achieve much lower rates of reoffending. For example, the reported two-year reconviction rate in Norway is just 20% (SCCJR, 2012). In the UK and the US, rehabilitation is much more limited and reoffending rates are much higher (Deady, 2014).

In recent years, with increases in overcrowding in prisons in England and Wales, it has been harder for the prison service to deliver effective rehabilitation services. With increased overcrowding and budget cuts rehabilitation services are often the first to be pared back (HoC, 2012). In addition, despite attempts to ‘transform rehabilitation’, recent reforms have not always been successful (for example, reforms to the delivery of probation services) and a positive transformation of rehabilitation services is still missing.

Sir Martin Narey, a former director general of the Prison Service, has said rehabilitation of offenders in prisons does not work and should be scrapped: "research to establish a causal link between rehabilitation and reduced reoffending is lacking and short courses cannot fix problems caused by difficult childhoods" (The Guardian, 2019). Instead, he says, prisoners should be held in decent and safe prisons and be treated with decency and dignity. Others also support the view that to reduce crime and reoffending, many of the most effective solutions lie outside the criminal justice system (see, for example, Moore, 2016). In 2018, the Justice Committee highlighted the fact that issues facing offenders on probation are not all within the gift of probation services to resolve, and therefore a cross-Government approach is needed and organisations need to work together (House of Commons Justice Committee, 2018).

The view that prisons do not have a role to play in the rehabilitation of prisoners is not shared by everyone and the Ministry of Justice has reviewed some of the evidence on what types of rehabilitation are effective at reducing reoffending (MoJ, 2013b). They found good evidence that a wide range of drug interventions, and cognitive skills programmes have a positive impact on reducing reoffending. They also found evidence that violence can be reduced through psychosocial interventions, such as anger and emotional management, developing interpersonal skills, and social problem solving. However, a lot of the evidence on interventions, although in some cases promising, was mixed or there was insufficient evidence.

Some of the most promising forms of rehabilitation include education and skills programmes, and work activities. Prisoners enter prison with very low levels of educational attainment (Prison Reform Trust, 2019). Improving their levels of education and skill can help increase their chances of finding work on release and thereby reduce reoffending rates. However, the share of ex-offenders who find employment upon release is very low. Research using longitudinal data collected from a cohort of longer-sentenced prisoners (sentenced to between 18 months and four years) found that the biggest predictor of a prisoner finding employment shortly after release (31% had found work) was whether they were employed prior to going into custody (Brunton-Smith and Hopkins, 2014). Other factors directly associated with a greater likelihood of being in employment after release were identified:

  • Across all family court cases there was a 30% increase in cases in which neither party had legal representation (2013-14 compared with 2012-13).
  • 80% of all family court cases starting in the January–March quarter of 2013-14, included at least one party that did not have legal representation.
  • For cases involving contact with children (Children’s Act private law matters), 8,110 more court cases started with neither party represented; an increase of 22 percentage points from January–March 2012-13 to January–March 2013-14.
  • An increase in the number of cases involving contact with children that were contested. In the final quarter of 2012-13, 64% of cases starting in this area of law were contested. This rose to 89% in the corresponding quarter of 2013-14. NAO (2014, p.15).

They also found that Litigants In Person are:

  • Participation in paid work in custody. Prisoners who had worked while in prison were more likely to be in employment shortly after release.
  • Vocational training in custody. Prisoners who had attended vocational training in prison were more likely to securing employment shortly after release.
  • Accredited programmes to address offending behaviour and reduce drug or alcohol use in custody. Prisoners enrolled on accredited programmes to address offending behaviour and to reduce drug or alcohol use were more likely to be in employment shortly after release.
  • Prisoners’ living arrangements after custody were associated with employment on release, with those who reported being homeless shortly after release less likely to be in employment compared with those who were in more stable accommodation.
  • Qualifications before custody. Prisoners who had reported holding school-level qualifications (GCSE and A levels) were more likely to be in employment shortly after release (compared with those with no qualifications).
  • (Brunton-Smith and Hopkins, 2014).

Joint research by the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Education finds that taking part in a further education learning activity in prison reduces reoffending rates by nearly 10 percentage points (MoJ and DfE, 2017). The most common course taken (round 70%) were at entry or NVQ level 1, equivalent to an entry level certificate or a D-G grade at GCSE. Around one half took a course in the subject ‘Preparation for Life and Work’, which includes basic skills. Suggesting that education courses do not need to be at an advanced level to have an impact on reoffending rates. One group that didn’t have a lower reoffending rate as a result of participating in learning was drug users. For this group, other forms of rehabilitation, such as specific drug use interventions, are likely to be more effective at reducing reoffending as it is the dependency on drugs that causes this group to offend in the first place. This joint research uses linked administrative data and propensity score matching to help control for the possibility that selection into participation can bias the results. For example, if prisoners with a lower propensity to reoffend chose to engage in learning activities then simple descriptive statistics comparing ‘learners’ with ‘non-learners’ would show a spurious correlation between learning events and reoffending. Although learners and non-learners can be matched on many characteristics (for example, gender, age, type of offence, sentence, employment and benefit claiming history) one factor which the analysts were not able to take into account was motivation or determination. It could well be the case that prisoners with a determination to seek a life on release that doesn’t involve offending will choose to participate in learning activities. It is also likely to be the case that voluntary participation is important and that making these activities compulsory would be counter-productive.

What is concerning is evidence from the DfE, cited by the Prison Reform Trust (2019), that there has been a decline in the number of prisoners participating in learning activities (a drop of 12% between 2016-17 and 2017-18) and in the number who achieve a qualification (a drop of 13% over the same period). The number of English and maths qualifications achieved at level 1 or 2 (GCSE equivalent) has also declined—numbers have fallen by 29% between the 2011–12 and 2017–18 academic years. Only 200 achieved a level 3 qualification (AS and A Level equivalent) in the 2017–18 academic year via mainstream prison learning - a tenth of the number in 2011–12 (Prison Reform Trust, 2019).

Some reforms have tried to take an holistic approach. For example, the Aberdeen Problem-Solving Approach (PSA) aims to reduce the use of custodial sentences, and cut reoffending, by addressing the underlying problems linked with persistent offending. Rather than being given a custodial sentence, participants are given a deferred sentence while they engage with social workers and support workers to address the underlying problems linked to their offending (Eunson, 2018). These approaches are promising but the challenge of balancing the public and political desire for punishment with sufficient investment in rehabilitation remains. What is clear is that the media and the public need to be better informed about the structural causes of crime and the most effective forms of punishment and rehabilitation. The point Sir Martin Narey makes about the challenges of fixing ‘problems caused by difficult childhoods’ through short courses is a good one. Clearly structural causes of crime and reoffending cannot be solved through ‘quick fixes’ but need greater investment.

In 2016 the RSA and Transition Spaces collaborated on a project designed to explore how prisons in England and Wales could better support rehabilitation (the Future Prison project). They conclude that the potential impact that prisons could have on reducing reoffending has been undermined by a lack of consistent political leadership and clear purpose (O’Brien and Robson, 2016). Among the recommendations they make is a rehabilitation requirement (a legal duty) that requires prisons and probation to track individual and institutional progress in relation to rehabilitation. They also recommend the development of community-based rehabilitative prisons, with greater devolution for prison governors and Police and Crime Commissioners, integrated health services, more consideration given to the location of prisons and their built environment, and greater engagement from local authorities, communities and employers (O’Brien and Robson, 2016).

The model of contracting out rehabilitation services on the basis of a payment-by-results model to CRCs has been beset with problems. In 2018 the House of Commons Justice Committee published a report assessing how the CRC model was working in practice. They concluded that they were unconvinced that the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) model can ever deliver an effective or viable probation service. (House of Commons Justice Committee, 2018). A number of CRCs got into financial difficulty due to not hitting performance targets and because of the number of referrals were lower than expected. This forced the government to make contractual changes which the National Audit Office estimate will cost the government £342m in additional payments (NAO, 2017). With costs rising and only very small reductions in reoffending rates but increases in the number of offences, the government announced in 2018 that it will end CRC contracts early (in 2020) but plans to go ahead with 10 new contracts.

The official inspection of prisons in 2018/19 found that "Too many prisons continued to be plagued by drugs, violence, appalling living conditions and a lack of access to meaningful rehabilitative activity." (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, 2019). Among the inspections key findings were:

  • Men’s prisons: Too many prisoners were still being held in prisons that were unsafe. Levels of violence had increased in more than half the prisons inspected.
  • Respectful detention and living conditions: Inspectors noted the positive impact of in-cell phones and electronic kiosks for prisoners to make applications, health care appointments, arrange visits and make complaints. However, far too many prisoners still endured very poor and overcrowded living conditions. Although around two-thirds of prisoners overall were positive about the way they were treated by staff, inspectors frequently found that prisoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds had less positive views of their treatment and conditions. In addition, they found no clear strategy for older prisoners despite the growing share of this group in the prison population.
  • Purposeful activity: Only a third of the adult male prisons inspected provided purposeful activity, which includes the provision of education, work and training, which was judged to be good or reasonably good.
  • Rehabilitation and release planning: Overall, the inspectors found some progress but felt that much remained to be done, particularly around prisoners who presented a potentially high risk of harm to the public being released without a full risk assessment. Inspectors saw large cohorts of sex offenders in prisons where specialist interventions were not available.
  • (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, 2019)
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4.7 Cost

Initially high if good quality services are introduced. There is the potential for cost savings in the future from reduced crime and reoffending rates.

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