I love the Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile published by the Prison Reform Trust. I can’t say the same regarding some of the statistics contained within its pages. In fact, too many make for upsetting reading.
However, one thing that frustrates me with our criminal justice system, and the MoJ, and has done for years, is that they know what some of the solutions are. Our Ministry of Justice pledges a commitment to the reduction of re-offending. The same MoJ who in a report they published in 2013, ‘Compendium of re-offending statistics and analysis’, said “Short prison sentences are less effective than community sentences at reducing re-offending.”
In a recent ‘The Telegraph’ report, our prisons and probation minister, Lucy Frazer, is quoted to have said, “Cutting re-offending and its vast cost to society is a priority for this Government. Training within prison leads to employment on release, which we know has such a positive impact on ex-offenders, their families and communities, and ultimately reduces crime.”
In the year up to June 2020, 47,000 people, made up of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, were sent to prison. 65% (30,550) were sent to prison for a non-violent offence. 47% (22,090) were sentenced to six months or less.
The re-offending rate, of those sentenced to less than 12 months in prison, is 63%.
In 2010, a little under 200,000 community orders were given out by the courts and yet by 2020 that number had dropped to a little over 50,000.
The rate of re-offending of those sentenced to community orders is 56%.
A seven percentage point difference is definitely something not to be sniffed at. Especially when you consider re-offending costs £18.1 billion.
That’s a saving of just under £1.3 billion.
The time to think of reducing re-offending is at the moment a magistrate/judge adjourns a case for pre-sentence reports (PSR). The convicted individual will be certain of receiving a sentence whether it be non-custodial or custody.
People fall into the criminal justice system, especially at a young age, for several reasons, among which are the reasons I would suggest are primary and that is needs not being met. Unresolved trauma, lack of opportunities or choice, family problems and issues around education along with the environment in which they live. These issues, for those individuals, can be addressed if we understand their needs. They can also be addressed sooner rather than later,. The sooner we understand the why, the quicker we can intervene, holistically, for the individual and direct them away from the arms of HMP.
I believe the reduction of re-offending has three key elements:
- Early intervention
It is safe to assume we are discussing individuals who have been convicted and therefore, early intervention would be at the PSR stage, I know a PSR is not required in all cases, especially when the only option is custody, however, early intervention can still take place for that group later on. Early intervention, in relation to the criminal justice system, can be any point up to a new offence being committed by the individual. The earlier the better. The PSR also provides the perfect opportunity for a collaboration between the individual, their probation officer, and a peer supporter/worker to find the right sentence/sentence package for the individual. One that also meets the needs of the individual.
Most people aren’t criminals, not really, they are just as much victims of circumstances and unless we help change those circumstances through early intervention, awareness and education then nothing will change in that individual’s life with prison becoming the only constant and sometimes, comfort.
A PSR is also a perfect opportunity for the individual to accept responsibility whilst accepting an agreed pathway. A pathway they not only helped create, but because they have had a part to play and been listened to, I would suggest they would also buy into the pathway out. No one really wants to be stuck in the revolving doors they just want to be given a fair crack at life from a better platform from the one they are on. Unless we ask, and at the earliest opportunity, how will we know or how will they know what to do next? It is known that those who take responsibility for their sentence are 20% less likely to re-offend.
The very high majority of people leaving prison do not want to re-offend, they want a ‘normal’ life. Let us work together in helping them achieve it. No one’s born bad, but we all make bad decisions. Mostly because of our circumstances and not our morals.
The tools are already there, we just need to use them in the right way, and they will then make the difference we are all working towards.
Let us look at reducing re-offending from a platform of empathy and not one of apathy.