Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


119. The principle of rehabilitation has been established at the heart of government penal policy. Rule 3 of the Prison Rules 1999 obliges the Prison Service to ensure that "the purpose of the training and treatment of convicted prisoners shall be to encourage and assist them to lead a good and useful life";[96] and the Criminal Justice Act 2003 includes the "reform and rehabilitation of prisoners" among the statutory purposes of sentencing. [97]

120. The Government has defined one of its main objectives in rehabilitating offenders as being to reduce re-offending. The 'Strategic Plan for Criminal Justice 2004-08', published in July 2004, undertakes that "smarter sentences will punish the offender and protect the public but will also help criminals to stop offending, including through intensive drug treatment".[98] The latest figures, released in December 2004, show improvements in the re-offending rate, and the Home Office claims it is on course to reducing re-offending by 5% by 2008, and by 10% by the end of the decade.[99] The Prison Service has stated that "reducing re-offending by released prisoners is central to reducing crime and is therefore part of the Prison Service's core business of protecting the public" and states that "key interventions under the headings Offending Behaviour Programmes, Drug Rehabilitation Programmes, Basic Skills provision and Prisoners into Employment are leading the push towards the challenging target".[100]

121. As we have seen, in recent years this focus on reducing re-offending has been combined with publication of a series of official reports relevant to different aspects of rehabilitation. The Halliday report in 2001 drew attention to the damage done by the rise in prison population and high levels of overcrowding to the prison system's capacity to rehabilitate offenders, and recommended a new sentencing framework to tackle these problems. The Social Exclusion Unit report in 2002 identified the scale and costs of re-offending, and the correlation between high recidivism rates and social exclusion. The Prison Industries Review in 2003 produced a series of recommendations aimed at providing prisoners with purposeful out-of-cell activity at the same time as improving their future employment prospects. The Carter Report in 2003 endorsed the importance of rehabilitation as part of a wider strategy for dealing with offenders; it recommended more credible and consistent sentencing, and the creating of a merged Prison and Probation Service which would take responsibility for end-to-end management of the offender throughout his sentence. Finally, the Reducing Re-offending National Action Plan published in July 2004 is an initial attempt at setting out an outline national rehabilitation strategy.

122. Taken together, these reports provide a relatively coherent high-level policy strategy for the offender regime. Since their publication, the Government has taken a number of practical initiatives aimed at implementing aspects of that strategy. These include the merger of the Prison and Probation Services to form the National Offender Management Service, the introduction of new sentencing powers under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (most of which will come into operation in April 2005); and the creation of the Sentencing Guidelines Council to provide a systematic overhaul of sentencing guidelines.

123. As a consequence of the recent reports and government initiatives, the basic framework is now largely in place to make possible the more effective rehabilitation of offenders. Nonetheless, the evidence we have taken in our inquiry reveals that much remains to be done: there is concern about how some of the recent initiatives (such as the introduction of NOMS) are being implemented; and despite the welcome recent decrease in re-offending rates, the scale of the problem is massive—it remains the case that nearly three in five prisoners are reconvicted within two years of leaving prison. As we have seen, the Government's optimistic assessment that by 2009 the prison population will neatly match prison capacity rests on some questionable assumptions. It is not clear that the combined effect of sentencing reforms and the prison-building programme will be to relieve overcrowding, as the Government projections assume. Meanwhile the current high level of the prison population creates a constant 'churn' of prisoners through the system, and high levels of transfers between prisons, which makes it much more difficult to provide effective rehabilitative interventions. In this as in other respects, overcrowding is having a significant impact on the management of prisons.

124. The Social Exclusion Unit report in 2002 pointed out that the best way of reducing re-offending is to ensure that prisoners on their release have the ability to get into work and a home to go to. In the remainder of this report, we investigate the current levels of provision of training, education and employment opportunities within prison, and of resettlement arrangements after release.

96   The Prison Rules 1999 (S.I. (1999) No. 728), consolidated September 2002 Back

97   CJ Act 2003, Explanatory Notes  Back

98   Office for Criminal Justice Reform, Cutting Crime, Delivering Justice: A Strategic Plan for Criminal Justice 2004-08 (Cm 6288) (July 2004), p 10 Back

99   Home Office press release no. 379/2004, issued on 2 December 2004 Back

100   Ev 117 Back

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