How Offenders Can Bounce Back

The Prisons and Courts Bill 2017, sets out the purpose of prisons as : “In giving effect to sentences or orders of imprisonment or detention imposed by courts, prisons must aim to— (a) protect the public, (b) reform and rehabilitate offenders, (c) prepare prisoners for life outside prison, and (d) maintain an environment that is safe and secure.”

When announcing the Bill, the Secretary of State has been quoted as saying “Prison is about punishing people who have committed heinous crimes, but it should be a place where offenders are given the opportunity to turn their lives around.” And “I want our prisons to be places of discipline, hard work and self-improvement, where staff are empowered to get people off drugs, improve their English and maths get a job on release.

The degree to which the objectives above are achieved, and what is likely to be helpful in doing so has been the topic of much debate. Recent information about the measured rate of reoffending (re-conviction) tells us part of the story. Recently published Ministry of Justice information says:

  • Adult offenders had a proven reoffending rate of 24.3%. The adult proven reoffending rate is down 0.9 percentage points compared to the previous 12 months and 1.2 percentage points since 2004. The adult reoffending rate has remained fairly flat since 2004, fluctuating around 25%.
  • Juvenile offenders had a proven reoffending rate of 37.9%. The juvenile reoffending rate has increased by 4.3 percentage points since 2004. However, the size of the cohort has fallen by around 76% over the same period. The rate has remained broadly the same as 12 months earlier.
  • Adults released from custody had a proven reoffending rate of 44.7% The proven reoffending rate for adult offenders released from custody was 44.7%, a decrease of 1.1 percentage points compared to the previous 12 months and 3.9 percentage points since 2004.

My own establishment is a low security (Category ‘D’) establishment. Such institutions hold under 10% of the adult population in England and Wales, and have an emphasis on reform and rehabilitation, and preparing people for life after prison. In recent years, we have been able to work with our commissioners to develop services that are informed by research, to improve opportunities and encourage active citizenship. The people who progress to these institutions are selected using risk management principles, and are all progressing towards release within two years. The reoffending rates from such establishments are low compared to other types of prison.

Using research into ‘desistance’ and ‘recovery’ as well as more traditional criminal justice interventions we need to enable offenders to overcome the challenges of exclusion, and enable them to improve their prospects as active citizens.

By Graham Beck, Governor of HMP Kirkham, the largest open prison in the UK.

Graham will be speaking at our Citizenship and Engaging Marginalised Populations event on April 5th: