Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment - Justice Committee Contents


130. Ministers constantly affirm the message that it is possible for the system to both punish and rehabilitate, for example, Rt Hon David Hanson MP, then Prisons Minister, told us: "we need to use both the community sentence and the experience of prison to help support people not to commit further offences and to do so in a way which deprives them of their liberty."[211] But many of our witnesses have argued that this is problematic in the context of rational policy making. The intense debate among respondents to our e-consultation on the relative importance of the various aims of the criminal justice system highlights the complexity of the balance between the existing purposes of the system and the confusion which characterises public understanding of them (see annex 4).

131. In many policy statements the Government's use of language is opaque and often contradictory, for example, according to Justice for All "a key objective of sentencing is to reduce re-offending through the punishment and rehabilitation of offenders".[212] The paper further states that "the punishment must be appropriate to the offence and the offender, ensure the safety of the community and help rehabilitate offenders to prevent them re-offending once and for all."[213] These statements imply that punishment in itself effectively reduces the chance that further offences will be committed.

132. The objective of reducing crime sits within a wider set of considerations which sentencers must balance in their choice of sentence and within the context of expressed Government policy that sentences should be tougher and more appropriate, reflecting public sentiment that sentencers are too lenient. The Sentencing Advisory Panel has described how the various purposes of sentencing could be applied by sentencers:

    Sentencers must consider, given the nature and seriousness of the offence committed and the circumstances of the offender, which of these purposes is appropriate and how it (they) might be achieved. Thus, 'reform and rehabilitation' may influence the court in deciding what requirements to include in a community order; and 'reparation' to the victim may indicate a particular form of community order and/or a compensation order.[214]

In this way different sentences may be used to support different sentencing aims. The 2003 Criminal Justice Act did not accord any particular weight to the purposes of sentencing or suggest that any one purpose is more important than another when deciding on the sentence to impose. The Panel has suggested that the fact that punishment appears at the top of the list in statute could be taken to suggest that this is the primary aim of sentencing, particularly as most sentences will include an element of punishment; the other statutory purposes of sentencing could therefore be seen as subsidiary aims that it may be possible to accommodate through sentence selection, depending on the nature of the offence and the needs of the offender. Thus, attempts to reduce crime through sentencing may not be an explicit factor in all sentencing decisions except "in circumstances where the court concludes that the most effective way to prevent an offender from committing more offences is to address the underlying causes of the offending behaviour, reform and rehabilitation in particular may be primary considerations and can take precedence over punishment."[215]

133. This appears to be contrary to the aim of the 2001 sentencing framework review in recommending the introduction of a menu of community sentencing options. John Halliday, former senior Home Office official, led the review and concluded that:

    The available evidence suggests that greater support for reform and rehabilitation, within the appropriate "punitive envelope" of the sentence, to reduce risks of re-offending, offers the best prospects for improved outcomes.[216]

He suggested that sentencers should tailor the sentence to rehabilitative needs first:

    When considering a possible community sentence, if the court finds that the assessment of risks of re-offending, and consequent harm require work to tackle the offending behaviour at its roots, it would look for appropriate programmes, matching the assessed needs. In such cases, the "menu" for a community sentence will be larger. The first decision would be a choice of the programmes needed to tackle the offending behaviour, and an assessment of how punitive compliance with such programmes would be. If the "punitive weight" of complying with the necessary programmes was inadequate, it would be increased by adding any of the more exclusively punitive components.[217]

134. The Sentencing Advisory Panel has classified the primary purpose of each of the requirements that can be attached to community orders under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 as: punishment in the community (i.e. punitive); reparative activities; and those aimed at preventing re-offending (i.e. reformative). Table 3 shows that sentencers have made use of both punitive and reformative requirements in tailoring community-based sentences, and that reformative elements in particular are used more frequently, although the use of several potentially reformative orders appears limited given what is known about the prevalence of alcohol, drug and mental health needs of offenders

135. However, Napo suggested that the surveillance and enforcement roles of probation usurp rehabilitation and resettlement.[218] When trends in the use of requirements over time are considered it is apparent that sentencers are increasingly dispensing more punitive community-based sentences. Table 4 shows recent reductions in the use of rehabilitative aspects of community orders, in particular supervision and offending behaviour programmes and increases in use of punitive elements like curfew and exclusion.

136. Witnesses and respondents to the e-consultation pointed out that the key problem with focusing on punishment, is that punishment does not in itself change behaviour and hence result in better outcomes for victims in terms of the reduction of crime. As Professor Cynthia McDougall pointed out: "people continually want to punish as a means of trying to change behaviour and actually the evidence does not suggest that it is doing it very well […] People are coming back again and again to prison".[219] For the same reason it is problematic to neglect the rehabilitative aspects of sentences: more severe sentencing and crime reduction are not the same thing but this is not the message that the public gets. Rod Jarman, of the Metropolitan Police explained that unless the system intervenes and deals effectively with the complexities of many offenders' lives, punishment, sentences and orders will not make a real difference to communities.[220] There is a stated wish for prison to be used only as a last resort but all the evidence shows that there is an unstoppable administrative conveyor belt from court orders onto custody (via breaches of conditions) for relatively minor offences in the name of punishment.

137. A clear message from our witnesses was that emphasis should be placed on ensuring that sentencing, in addition to prisons and probation, must be more effective in reducing re-offending.[221] For example, Judge Michael Marcus, Oregon USA, argued that there is a need to abandon the "magical thinking" that just deserts, i.e. punishment, is a sufficient objective of sentencing.[222] He explained that the outcome of typical sentencing behaviour is enormous recidivism, but he believed that this is often ignored in efforts which seek to reduce the growth in the prison population, because such efforts tended to focus on ameliorating the symptoms of the punitive approach and did not address the root cause.[223]

138. We are concerned that an assumption has been created that punishment is the paramount purpose of sentencing. There is an understandable public concern that offenders should suffer serious consequences for the crimes they have committed, but if other purposes, including reform and rehabilitation and reparation to victims, were given higher priority, then we believe sentencing could make a much more significant contribution to reducing re-offending and to improving the safety of communities. This depends not just on setting out purpose and aspiration, or on statements of intent, but on transforming the culture and ethos of the criminal justice system from a reactive approach to a genuinely scientific and analytic approach. Chasing crime, reacting to crime figures and, responding to public debate, has brought about a remorseless growth in prison numbers, which devours more and more scarce resource. The starting point—not just for sentencing, but for the work of the police, prison, probation service and the contribution of third sector organisations—must be to analyse how and why criminal activity takes place, the factors that influence the seriousness of offending and "what works" in reducing both the frequency and the seriousness of offending.

Weaknesses in the capacity of the system

139. Many witnesses and respondents to the e-consultation questioned whether efforts to reform offenders have gone far enough, arguing that insufficient resources and effort are devoted to achieving rehabilitation and reduced offending.[224] For instance, Rainer proposed that investment must be made in people rather than prison building.[225] The Local Government Association and Clinks called for better investment in addressing the drivers of offending and re-offending.[226] Jonathan Aitken, former Minster and ex-prisoner, similarly described the rehabilitation of offenders as the weakest element of the system but believed it has "tremendous scope" as a policy. Speaking about those he encountered in prison he said:

    I could see ways by which they might not re-offend if they were handled differently from the way they were likely to be handled after they were released from prison or if they had been differently handled or their personal course of life had been different earlier, or in the jargon of professional prison thinkers, if there had been interventions in their lives […] much earlier.[227]

140. The Government should go much further in reducing the numbers of entrants and re-entrants to the criminal justice system. More emphasis must be placed on ensuring that the criminal justice system is effective in reducing re-offending, diverting people into appropriate support and embracing wider shared responsibility for reducing re-offending by tackling underlying causes within local communities. Resources must be shifted into targeting the reduction of re-offending on a much broader scale, taking a whole systems approach, which applies the best available research evidence to determine the most appropriate allocation of resources both between prisons and probation and outwith the criminal justice system.

Potentially rehabilitative measures not yet implemented

141. In our report, Towards effective sentencing, we lamented the fact that two of the potentially rehabilitative measures, custody plus and intermittent custody, for which legislative provision was made in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, have not been implemented.[228] We concluded that this had contributed to the Government's failure to stem the growth in prison numbers. Witnesses have raised concerns about other such initiatives which have either never materialised, or stalled in development, because they have not been sufficiently funded.


142. The Government is of the view that community involvement in the criminal justice system will be enhanced by justice being dispensed through processes that promote and depend on community input.[229] Restorative justice, which seeks to enable offenders to address the harm caused to victims and communities as a result of their offences, is an important example of this.

143. Restorative justice: the Government's strategy was published for consultation in 2003. Respondents to the consultation broadly welcomed the Government's strategic commitment to an evidence-based approach. Witnesses and respondents to the e-consultation highlighted the potential value of restorative justice schemes as constructive, community-based responses to crime, which have remained largely untapped i.e. they are not widely available. For example, Professor Ian Loader argued that there is now reliable research evidence on the value of restorative justice.[230] Mr Aitken explained that restorative justice is not very expensive and appears to pay a good dividend, citing figures that for every £1 spent on restorative justice at least £1 is saved by reducing re-offending.[231] The Government is now revisiting its policy on restorative justice with a new "victim focused" strategy for adult offenders, which is currently in development.[232]

144. We are surprised by the cautious approach that the Government has taken towards restorative justice but we welcome its current commitment to revive the strategic direction in this area. We urge the Justice Secretary to take immediate action to promote the use of restorative justice and to ensure that he puts in place a fully funded strategy which facilitates national access to restorative justice for victims before the end of this Parliament.


145. Custody, care and justice: the way ahead for the Prison Service in England and Wales, published in 1991 and endorsed by all political parties, included a commitment to: "develop community prisons which will involve the gradual realignment of the prison estate into geographically coherent groups serving most prisoners within that area".[233] This idea was revisited in 2005 by the then Home Secretary, Rt Hon Charles Clarke MP, who identified the benefits of such an approach for both community engagement and better resettlement.[234] The following year the Government proposed the introduction of community prisons for the least serious offenders.[235]

146. Several witnesses spoke of the benefits of community prisons, perhaps in regional clusters, in terms of rehabilitation, maintaining family links and consistency in minimising movement between establishments.[236] For example, Jonathan Aitken believed it is feasible for the prison system to be re-configured to a local model.[237] His report for the Centre for Social Justice made detailed proposals on such a model.[238] Policy Exchange has proposed that building smaller community-based prisons with co-located courts would reduce other systemic inefficiencies, for example, in relation to the effectiveness of resettlement and the costs of prisoner and family transport.[239]

147. There is undoubtedly political support for community prisons yet the expansion in the prison population and the subsequent assessment by Lord Carter that building large prisons is the only way to meet demand for prison places, suggest that this idea has once again been shelved. Lord Ramsbotham was critical that Lord Carter did not calculate the cost of a regional prison model.[240] Mr Paul Tidball, Chair, Prison Governors' Association saw benefits in the concept of such prisons and explained that some prisons do operate in this way, i.e. covering specific local areas, but he argued that it would be prohibitively expensive to reconfigure the estate on a local or even regional basis.[241] According to Ian Porée, Director of Operation Policy and Commissioning, NOMS the prospects of reconfiguring the prison estate are limited in any case. He argued that such provision would be impractical because there is an inherent inability to provide a sufficient variety of provision for the range of offenders. [242] It was for this reason that small local custodial units for women, as proposed by Baroness Corston, were subsequently dismissed by the Ministry of Justice.[243]

148. Plans to close outdated prisons have been reiterated but there is currently limited prospect of this becoming a reality. The realisation of the Government's original plan for community prisons seem to rest on a lower prison population freeing up scarce resources. The Government's proposals for community prisons appear to have succumbed to pressures on the prison estate and a decision to expand the prison estate rapidly. This emergency response has prevented a more considered approach to review the type of prison estate best suited for the criminal justice system we wish to have in future.

149. We are disappointed that the Government has not implemented its proposals for smaller community-based prisons which would enable prisoners to serve much more of their sentence in a single location, closer to their home community—with consequent benefits for their resettlement. Even if the community prison model is not currently feasible it would be beneficial to apply some of the principles to the existing prison estate so that the estate is not expanded in such a way as to prohibit such an approach in future. If the number of prisoners were reduced, this would facilitate greater mobility to enable offenders on sentences of 12months or less to be kept in prison closest to home and those on longer sentences to be moved to a suitable establishment near home when they are approaching the end of their sentence in order to facilitate resettlement.


150. In 2002, the Government made a commitment to legislate to amend the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, which specifies rehabilitation periods (according to the type and length of sentence) after which most offenders are no longer required to disclose their convictions when applying for a job, at the earliest opportunity. One respondent to the e-consultation explained that the Act is "a huge obstacle to many former offenders who wish to enter into education or work—both of which, if secured, lead to reduction in re-offending."[244] By the Government's own admission reform is required: "so that a better balance is achieved between the need to protect the public from those who continue to pose a serious risk of harm on the one hand, and improving the chances that an ex-offender can get a job, and thus reduce his or her chances of re-offending on the other".[245] However, these reforms have not been included in mass of new legislation on criminal justice since then. We recommend that the Government implement the reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, which it has conceded is required, before the end of this Parliament.

Slow progress reform for particular groups of offenders

151. We noted in our report, Towards effective sentencing, that insufficient provision had been made to deal with particular groups of offenders, including short-sentenced prisoners and those who may be considered vulnerable, particularly women offenders, young offenders and those with mental health problems. On the other hand, we were encouraged by the strong recommendations of Baroness Corston's review of vulnerable women in the criminal justice system, the majority of which were accepted by the Government; the commencement of a review by Lord Bradley on the treatment of people with mental health problems or learning difficulties in the criminal justice system and; the shift in the Government's perspective towards the cost-effectiveness of imprisonment for those sentenced to less than 12 months.


152. Rt Hon David Hanson MP, then Prisons Minister, drew our attention to the fact that the women's prison population has reduced since the Government began to implement the recommendations of the Corston report.[246] But Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, expressed to us her disappointment on the progress with the Corston report and told us of her suspicions that it is due to a lack of money.[247] Baroness Corston's recommendation for a network of community centres for women offenders was based on the success of several 'demonstrator' projects, financed by the Government for three years to March 2009. £15.6 million funding for a handful of such projects was announced in February 2009.[248] It has since become apparent that some of this will be used to overcome financial problems for the initial demonstrator projects which are unable fully to sustain themselves without Government funding.[249] [250]

153. In his review of people with mental health problems or learning disabilities in the criminal justice system, Lord Bradley agreed that all courts should have access to liaison and diversion services, but did not address the problem we raised in a previous report of how these would be funded.[251] The Ministry of Justice has promoted the use of such schemes but it explained to us that it had limited influence on the commissioning of them which, it argued, was a matter for local commissioners—funding was the responsibility of primary care trusts. Nevertheless, Lord Bradley found that the majority of existing schemes were solely health service funded, but that jointly funded schemes, for example with probation or the local authority, achieved better performance.[252] The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health has recently suggested that provision could be mandated in the 2010 NHS Operating Framework.[253]

154. Until Lord Bradley's recommendations are implemented, the Government continues to rely on encouraging diversion through the use of guidance and circulars which, according to our evidence, are limited in effect. Professor Cynthia McDougall told us:

    There is a diversion provision, there are circulars instructing people to do that, but the facilities on the ground do not support it. They work in some areas but they do not work in other areas. I can understand why judges or magistrates have not got a lot of confidence in the system if nobody can say what is actually going to happen to this person if they get diverted. You need to have the systems in the community that are there so the person does not become criminalised from the beginning and gets diverted into more of a treatment ethos.[254]

155. The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health found that each time a person is diverted from a short prison sentence to community mental health care, the taxpayer saves £20,000 in the costs of crime.[255] Lord Bradley's team calculated that an increased use of mental health requirements for offenders with mental health problems that are currently subject to short-term prison sentences could save an estimated 2000 prison places and yield savings of £40m per year against the cost of community sentences.[256] In the context of the planned prison building programme, these savings would be considerably higher as this would negate the need for one of the new prisons. Despite this evidence, Lord Bradley called for a centrally commissioned, more in-depth study to be undertaken to verify these initial findings.

156. Lord Bradley also notes that although there has been a reduction in delays in the transfer of prisoners to hospital for treatment of acute mental illness, many prisoners still have to wait long periods of time. He found this was partly the result of the lack of availability of specialist beds and problems in getting primary care trusts (PCTs) to pay for prisoners' treatment. Yet, we heard that there is a surfeit of such beds in the independent sector. Although hospital treatment is more expensive than a prison place, Partnerships in Care, a large independent provider of medium-secure psychiatric care, raised concerns that because the Ministry of Justice funds prison places for those not diverted to hospital, there is little incentive for a PCT to fund hospital placements. Partnerships in Care highlighted the additional costs of managing a prisoner with acute mental health problems and the potential for eventual costs to the NHS to escalate if conditions are not treated as effectively as possible. Furthermore, the re-offending rates for those treated in custody are estimated at only 7% over 2 years.[257] More recent research by Laing and Buisson suggests that the reduced risk of re-offending as a result of hospital treatment could lead to a saving to society of over £600,000 over a prisoner's lifetime for each prisoner transferred out of prison into a secure hospital.[258] This report notes that in 2007, 1,458 offenders were diverted into hospital settings and recommends that this number should be doubled. According to the Ministry of Justice, the greater use of secure mental health facilities would be too challenging to implement and would only yield 200 prison places in the short-term.[259] Nevertheless, the potential medium and long-term benefits indicate that this area warrants further consideration.

157. We are disappointed with the Government's slow progress in implementing Baroness Corston's recommendations for vulnerable women offenders, which it accepted in December 2007. We are concerned that the limited additional funding that has been committed to implementing the recommendations has been partially diverted to existing projects which have been unable to find sustainable funding. This is symptomatic of fundamental problems in funding initiatives which would reduce the use of prison.

158. We welcome Lord Bradley's review of the treatment of people with mental health problems or learning difficulties in the criminal justice system. There is strong evidence that swift action in this area, in particular to broaden access to diversion and liaison schemes and to secure hospital treatment, could yield short, medium and long-term reductions in the prison population and result in cost savings to the public purse, as well as provide more humane approaches to managing offenders with mental ill-health.


159. Where custodial sentences are given for less serious offences (theft, handling stolen goods, fraud, forgery and criminal damage) they tend to be short, typically 4 to 12 months. However, these offenders tend to be very persistent, with 60% of convicted shoplifters and 38% of burglars having 3 or more previous convictions or cautions for the same offence. Although at any one time only about 13% of sentenced offenders in prison are serving a short-term sentence, these sentences account for nearly 60,000 offenders entering prison each year.[260] The Magistrates' Association and representatives from the Probation Chiefs' Association, Prison Reform Trust and the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, among others, re-iterated the importance of recognising that those serving short prison sentences are not subject to statutory supervision by probation on release and neither are they in prison long enough to complete courses aimed at rehabilitation.[261] As we noted in our report, Towards effective sentencing, this is very wasteful of resources both in terms of the use of custody and costs of re-offending.[262] We commend the Government's progress in attempting to reduce the use of short prison sentences since our report, Towards effective sentencing. We have some concerns that a version of Custody Plus, which was not in itself implemented, is now being introduced 'by the back door' without sufficient funding.

160. There are also questions over the timeliness of provision. Savas Hadjipavlou, Ministry of Justice, and Metropolitan Police Commander Rod Jarman, both told us that in order to be successful services should be ready at the time the person is assessed as requiring them (e.g. immediately on release from prison or on receipt of the community order).[263] It is important to seize the moment with interventions of this sort and to be put on a waiting list for several weeks or months can hardly be described as seizing the moment. Thus, delays in getting access to treatment or to starting community orders may also undermine the efficacy of sentences in reducing crime.

161. There is a strong case for using very short term periods in custody of only one or two days for the assessment of needs and, where necessary, immediate detoxification, followed by fast track into appropriate housing, and into drugs, alcohol and/or mental health treatment with supervision. If re-offending occurs the process begins again. We were struck by the extent to which these initiatives were led by police officers and/or judges, and the extent to which they commanded cross-agency co-operation, fast intervention and shared resources. For example, in Portland, Oregon local decision makers appeared to have the authority and empowerment to cut through the red tape and act swiftly. Consideration needs to be given to authorising local decisions which override the delays inherent in the management of demand within local agencies. There are parallels with the intentions behind the establishment of crime and disorder partnerships. Despite the introduction of local area agreements the day-to-day priorities of the local police commander and the chief executives of the local authority or health trust still differ. There is a need to refresh and drive the commitment to local crime reduction through a targeted partnership approach.

Adults facing chronic exclusion

162. Witnesses identified the need to recognise a particular group of short-sentenced prisoners with multiple needs, who are over-represented in the criminal justice system.[264] For example, Revolving Doors Agency used the term "revolving door" to refer to "the experiences of people who are caught in a cycle of crisis, crime and mental illness, whereby they are repeatedly in contact with the police and often detained in prison.[265] Dr Miles Rinaldi vividly described this group:

    […] the toxic mixture of individuals who do not necessarily meet the eligibility criteria for services within the borough - so people who have common mental health problems and may have a low learning disability but are not meeting the threshold for learning disability services, and drug and alcohol issues but not necessarily engaging with the services that are available.[266]

163. Revolving Doors Agency explained that services are reluctant to intervene with such individuals. They hence fall through the gaps in provision; tend to receive short prison sentences because of their histories of non-engagement and the lack of appropriate services in their communities.[267] Angela Greatley, Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, described the futility of such sentences in addressing offending:

    […] [they are] so short that no health care catches up with them while they were on the short sentence and they are sent up country somewhere else or they are on a very short local sentence—and they come out and no one has seen them, and when they come out of the gate they have the small amount of cash they are given, they might or might not be picked up by an agency, they certainly probably do not have some roof over their head, and they immediately, of course, gravitate back to the kind of company and groups who are their friends and their companions. [268]

164. She added that a mechanism must be found for ensuring that this group of offenders engage with services: "it is clearly unacceptable that any community should have people who come out of prison, for instance, effectively, dumped in communities."[269] Revolving Doors Agency argued that emphasis should be shifted outside the criminal justice system altogether to prevent this group from falling through the net in the first place. [270] The Cabinet Office Social Exclusion Task Force acknowledged that this group, which it refers to as "adults facing chronic exclusion", is hard to place and support in existing services.[271] However there has been no systematic attempt to address this except in a few pilot areas which have received cross-departmental funding specifically for this purpose (discussed below). We welcome Government emphasis on reducing the use of short-term prison sentences but believe a broader approach is required. This should include increasing the capacity of probation to deal with community sentences, and wider community work with the chronically excluded so as to reduce the waste of probation resources on lower risk offenders. It is more cost-effective to deal with offenders when behaviour starts to become problematic rather than when it is entrenched enough to warrant a custodial sentence.


165. The Government acknowledged that prison and probation provision for young adult offenders (i.e. those aged 18-20) must be improved in its Justice for all white paper in 2001, in recognition of the very high levels of re-offending by this group. While re-offending rates for young adults have since fallen, they remain high[272], and Rainer (now Catch22) argued that the needs of this group continue to be neglected.[273] The Transition to Adulthood Alliance calls for a "distinct and radical new approach" to be taken to dealing with adult offenders up to the age of 24.[274] While young adults make up only 9.5% cent of the general population, they represent a third of people sentenced to custody each year, take up a third of probation caseloads and commit a third of all crime. The Alliance argues that dealing with this group more effectively could yield considerable savings: it calculated that their crimes cost the taxpayer between £16.8 and 20 billion per year.

166. It does not make financial sense to continue to ignore the needs of young adult offenders. They will become the adult offenders of tomorrow. Particular effort should be made to keep this group out of custody. A multi-agency approach, akin to that applied to young offenders aged under 18, might bring similar benefits in terms of the reduction of re-offending to those aged 18 to 25.

Coherence of criminal justice policy

167. Several witnesses noted the importance of overcoming the tension between punishment and reform if criminal justice policy-making is to become more rational, and expressed to us some anxieties about the coherence of criminal justice policy and its sustainability. For instance, Nacro pointed to an apparent reluctance on behalf of the Government to draw together convincing arguments about the importance of rehabilitation and resettlement, as well as punishment, which was necessary if there is to be a real reduction in crime.[275] The Prison Reform Trust said that "employing costly and unplanned stop-gap measures as the system lurches from one crisis to the next—rather than placing the system on a planned, cost-effective and sustainable basis—is a failing strategy."[276] Napo also criticised the Government's lack of long-term planning and suggested that as a result policy tends to be more about crisis management than attempting to implement a long term strategic approach to reducing re-offending. [277]

168. The twin track approaches of punishment and rehabilitation do not fit together into a coherent or rational policy. There are inherent contradictions in what Government is trying to achieve, the messages it is communicating and the subsequent outcomes. The rhetoric of punishment comes through more strongly in Government policy than reform or rehabilitation.

169. We recognise the importance of society expressing its abhorrence of crime and understand the expectation that punishment will be an element of sentencing, but the over-riding purpose of the offender management system is public safety, therefore the prevention of future crime. Each offender completing their sentence should be less likely to re-offend than before. Yet there is compelling evidence that the Government has missed many opportunities to reduce re-offending by failing to invest in community provision outside the criminal justice system and by not delivering the raft of promising approaches proposed in recent years.

170. If the system were to be re-focused on this explicit aim the offence would not be viewed as any less serious but the immediate intervention and way of dealing with it might be different. Even if the Government cannot agree that reducing re-offending should be the over-riding aim, there must be an agreement that it is currently the most neglected, and that this must change if the system is to become more coherent and rational.

Placing victims at the heart of the system means working to reform offenders

171. Victim Support welcomed the different but overlapping initiatives which are taking place within different Government departments but suggested that a "whole system" joined up approach is needed which is more clearly defined and which explicitly recognises the link between victimisation and offending.[278] The criminal justice system must also strike a balance between meeting the needs of victims and those of offenders. Louise Casey expressed concern that victims feel that the criminal justice system respects the rights of perpetrators of crime more than victims.[279] The perceived need to rebalance the system in favour of victims can therefore make it difficult for the Government to invest more heavily in provision for offenders, even when it is intended to prevent future offending.

172. On the other hand we heard that investing in the prevention of re-offending represents the best means of preventing further victimisation. As Imran Hussain, Head of Policy and Communications at the Prison Reform Trust, reminded us, there is a danger that the balance between victims and perpetrators of crime becomes a zero-sum game.[280] In our discussions with Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Victim Support, on sentencing guidelines, she was clear that victims support the reduction of re-offending:

    […] we seem to be […] leaping to the conclusion and some prescription around what should happen if this does not seem to be working, and we are talking about guidelines which are really saying, in any commonsense way, if something does not work, we start to analyse why not and then think about whether it should be some other kind of penalty or whether it should be a higher sentence because of the individual circumstances of the case, which is what justice, in a sense, is about, and really reflecting on what we absolutely know around victims, and that is that what they want, apart from the impossible, which is to be put back in time to where it did not happen in the first place, is for it not to happen again, and so the emphasis for us on trying to make that happen is really very strong indeed and, also, a reminder that very many of the offenders that we are talking about are themselves victims. They will have been through some form of victimisation themselves, and, if we do not stop that cycle by looking at a whole gamut of solutions other than just potentially custodial sentences, then we probably miss the point and we are caught in that loop.[281]

173. Rt Hon David Hanson MP, then Prisons Minister, acknowledged that offenders are very often victims: "we are dealing very often with some very damaged individuals for whom the problems may well have started in childhood or in early youth".[282] He suggested that the complexity of these problems explained why it is "very difficult at times" for the system to deal effectively with literacy, numeracy, employability, problems with drugs and alcohol, mental health issues.[283] This is not, however, the consistent message coming from Government as evident in the Secretary of State's address on punishment and reform in October 2008 where he criticised the 'offender lobby':

    But what about victims? The government as a whole has worked very hard to give a central voice and priority to victims, but we hear far less often from these lobbies about the needs of the victim. I think that they sometimes forget who the victim is, so lost do they become in a fog of platitudes.[284]

174. We heard that there may be some scope for shifting the strategic direction of policy to reducing the risk of re-victimisation. For example, Professor Jonathan Shepherd suggested that emphasis could be placed on reducing the risk of being a victim of crime through community based work e.g. on alcohol abuse.[285] Professor Ian Loader argued that the emphasis of policy should be placed on preventing the victimisation of those who justifiably have a high fear of crime because they are at high risk of being a victim.[286]

175. The reduction of re-offending and of the incidence of serious further offences requires an essentially public-focused and victim-based approach which goes beyond the traditional culture of the courts and the criminal justice system more generally.

Mainstream provision to reduce crime and re-offending


176. The most recent proposed Strategic Plan for Reducing Re-offending 2008-11 included references to better use of resources, in particular asking whether resources should be prioritised on those with the highest likelihood of re-offending, rather than primarily related to the seriousness of the offence.[287] The plan for the first time explicitly integrates reducing re-offending with the wider crime reduction agenda supported by new Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets, placing renewed emphasis on cross-departmental accountability for reducing re-offending.[288] Several PSA priorities, which were implemented on 1 April 2008, relate to crime reduction and reducing re-offending. These are shown in chart x.

177. The introduction of shared performance indicators through local area agreements marks a shift in emphasis to joining up cross-departmental agendas at local level. This is explained in the Criminal Justice System Business Plan 2008-09: "increasingly the centre will work by providing the broad principles and direction, including guidance and best practice examples, within which areas will develop their approach to meet local circumstances and priorities."[289] The Government is thus stepping back from "what has been perceived as a centrally target-driven approach" to encourage a localised approach to meeting locally agreed targets and hence transferring accountability to local level.[290]

178. The table below shows the number of local areas which have chosen to prioritise national indicators relevant to re-offending.

179. We welcome the move to joint targets and more sophisticated measures of re-offending. The Public Service Agreement performance framework and accompanying Local Area Agreement indicators are much more constructive than the preceding targets. The previous arrangements permitted relevant organisations to continue to avoid their responsibilities despite the recognition by Government, and by many of the agencies concerned, that interaction between the criminal justice agencies and with other partners are crucial to reducing re-offending. We are concerned that there has been low take-up of crime-related indicators in local areas and we believe that local strategic partnerships should better reflect the priority given to crime as a matter of public concern both nationally and locally.


180. The evidence indicates a need for a stronger driver of cross-departmental strategy. For example, Clive Martin, Clinks, argued that the local area agreement process is inaccessible to the voluntary sector which has a strong track record in providing services to offenders.[291] Julian Corner, co-author of the Social Exclusion Unit report on reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners, has suggested that the emphasis of policy in this area should shift more fundamentally:

    The primary role of our prisons is to contain and correct dangerousness that imminently threatens society. Soaking up community failure weakens and confuses this function. On the other hand, the role of our community services is to ensure that vulnerable people can live independent lives and can realise their aspirations. The "free good" or "pressure valve" of the prison system diminishes the accountability of community services to get this right…We should be talking instead about putting in place firewalls [original emphasis] not pathways, designed to prevent community failure permeating our prisons.[292]

181. For example, Juliet Lyon set out the obstacles to implementing well-evidenced programmes to shift the balance of the system for women. In response to the Ministerial Statement on the Corston report:

    […] I have scarcely seen anything quite so cautiously framed. We just might do this thing possibly one day, maybe […] it was terribly disappointing, and it occurred to me that maybe there has been a problem about finding the money and about being able to identify a budget for it, because the Government have indicated in principle that they are prepared to accept 40 of Baroness Corston's 43 recommendations and seemed very clear about wanting to go ahead with a ten-year plan which would, in effect, close women's prisons and establish a large network in the community of supervision and support centres for women. So there is clearly is cash outlay for that element alone of the programme, but in turn, with evidence very firmly on her side, it is quite clear that if Baroness Corston's plan was implemented, it would save a lot of money. What I am driving at […] is because the money is not available, then there maybe is an argument for having some flexibility in funding so that when people want to do something better and different they can find that extra cost in order to save serious money and to demonstrate they can save serious money in the medium to longer-term.[293]

Capacity to prioritise resources

182. In March 2007, the Public Administration Committee published a report Governing the future on strategic thinking in Whitehall, emphasising the importance of long-term policy planning and the need for transparency in policy development. It stated that:

    Governing for the future is difficult. Not only are there notorious uncertainties in forecasting, but governments are also hampered by the short-termism of the electoral cycle […] Policies agreed now will affect the lives of the next and subsequent generations […] Government should be as open as possible about the way in which it considers long-term issues, to build public understanding of possible future scenarios. Change in policy in the light of changing knowledge and circumstances is a sign of strength not weakness; and a public which recognises that strategies are made in the light of the best evidence available at the time, with all the uncertainty that this implies, may be better able to understand the need for change.[294]

183. We examined the extent to which policy and planning for criminal justice takes such a long-term view. In early 2008 the Ministry of Justice was subject to a baseline capability review by the Cabinet Office to assess how well equipped it was to deliver on its objectives.[295] The ability of the department to 'plan, resource and prioritise' was identified as one of three areas in which urgent development was required. Other areas for development included its ability to build capacity and base choices on evidence. The Cabinet Office concluded that:

    […] the [Ministry of Justice] Board is not always able to draw on reliable data when taking prioritisation decisions within a difficult financial environment. It is not currently able to set a reasonable price for a given level of services and drive efficiencies by creating incentives for providers to deliver at or below that price.[296]

184. The National Audit Office's report on the effectiveness of community orders[297] concluded that the probation service does not know with any certainty how many orders it has the potential or capacity to deliver within its resources, nor has it determined the full cost of delivering community orders. It also found that neither local areas nor NOMS could say whether sentences have been fulfilled because data on the completion of order requirements is not routinely reported. Lord Ramsbotham said that the same was true for imprisonment: nobody knows the cost of imprisonment; nobody knows how much it actually costs to do the things the Government says ought to be done with and for prisoners. He compared this to his experience of planning at the Ministry of Defence which worked out what activity was essential, what it was desirable to have and what must be left out because there were insufficient resources. [298]

185. The Ministry of Justice has recognised the need to improve the data upon which financial decisions about spending on criminal justice are made. In February 2008, NOMS acknowledged in its Commissioning and Partnerships Framework that there was insufficient information on the costs of various prison and probation activities to support commissioning decisions, i.e. how much commissioners should expect to pay for the volume of interventions required.[299] It has since embarked on a 3-5 year exercise to examine the capacity of prisons and probation and to support "best value" commissioning known as the specification, benchmarking and costing programme.[300] The first phase of the programme is expected to yield efficiency savings of £50 million in 2009/10.[301] It is expected that fully-costed specifications for all prison and probation services will be completed in time to support business planning for 2010-11.[302]

186. The responsibilities for criminal justice policy, community development and the voluntary sector and volunteering rested with the Home Office as recently as 2001. Now these responsibilities are split between the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Cabinet Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government. While the reorganisation may assist in terms of focus on specific policies it does undermine the idea of a joined-up approach to the optimum management of resources to reduce crime.

187. There is no coherent strategy between the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and other departments to ensure the most appropriate allocation of resources to reduce crime. A considerable amount of management information about offenders is held locally by prisons, probation areas and other providers which, if captured centrally, would provide a wealth of material to support the case for cross-departmental reform.

188. We welcome the NOMS benchmarking programme but we are concerned that it is motivated more by a desire to save money that to ensure that resources are allocated rationally to best effect; it is also limited to interventions that have typically been provided by the probation service and does not seek to consider the cost-effective use of resources for reducing crime more widely.

211   Q 574 Back

212   Justice for All White Paper, Cm 5563, July 2002, p 103 Back

213   Ibid, p 17 Back

214   Sentencing Advisory Panel, Consultation paper on overarching principles of sentencing, July 2008, p 12 Back

215   Ibid, pp 12-13 Back

216   John Halliday, Making punishments work: a review of the sentencing framework in England and Wales, July 2001,
p ii 

217   Ibid, p 19 Back

218   Ev 238 Back

219   Q 131  Back

220   Q 545 Back

221   In our recent report on the role of the prison officer we observed that improving access to education for prison officers would be likely to increase their ability to positively influence prisoners, both in terms of educational uptake and in terms of addressing factors that increase the likelihood of re-offending. Back

222   Ev 185 Back

223   Ibid. Back

224   Q 141, 513 [Professor McDougall, Lord Dubs]; Ev 292 [Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health]  Back

225   Ev 265ff Back

226   Ev 180 Back

227   Q 511 Back

228   HC (2007-08) 184-I, para 117 Back

229   See Justice for All White Paper, Cm 5563, July 2002  Back

230   Q 484. For example, the Prison Reform Trust found that the re-offending rate following the use of restorative youth conferencing in Northern Ireland was 37.7%, compared to 52.1% for community sentences and 70.7% for custodial sentences. Back

231   Q 516. Based on evidence in Ministry of Justice report, Does restorative justice affect reconviction? The fourth report from the evaluation of three schemes, June 2008.  Back

232   HC Deb, 17 March 2009: col 1124W [Commons written answer] Back

233   HL Deb, 26 June 08, cols 1617 [Lords Chamber]  Back

234   Rt Hon Charles Clarke MP, Speech to Prison Reform Trust, September 2005  Back

235   National Offender Management Service, Five year strategy for protecting the public and reducing re-offending, February 2006 Back

236   Qq 430, 474 [Mr Tidball, General Lord Ramsbotham]; Ev 234 [Napo] Back

237   Q 519 Back

238   Policy Exchange, Locked up potential: a strategy for reforming prisons and rehabilitating prisoners, March 2009 Back

239   Ev 252 Back

240   Q 475 Back

241   Qq 430-433 Back

242   Q 381 Back

243   Ministry of Justice. Delivering the Government response to the Corston Report, June 2008 Back

244   See Annex 4, TH2972 Back

245   HM Government, Justice for All, Cm 5563, July 2002  Back

246   Q 566 Back

247   Q 167 Back

248   HC Deb, 3 Feb 2009, col 45WS [Commons written ministerial statement] Back

249   Ev 213 Back

250   As this report was being prepared for publication the Ministry of Justice announced a new policy initiative to reduce women's prison places by 400 (around 10%) by March 2012 to free up funding for specialist services in the community aimed at turning vulnerable women away from crime (MoJ press release 181-09, 14 December 2009)


251   Justice Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2007-08, Towards effective sentencing, HC 184-I, para 117 Back

252   Lord Bradley's review of people with mental health problems or learning disabilities in the criminal justice system,
April 2009 

253   Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, The Bradley report and the Government's response, July 2009 Back

254   Q 145 Back

255   Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, Diversion: a better way for mental health and criminal justice, February 2009 Back

256   Bradley Report, p 96 Back

257   Ev 247 Back

258   Renshaw, J. Waiting on the Wings: A review of the costs and benefits of secure psychiatric hospital care for people in the criminal justice system with severe mental health problems, January 2010, Laing and Buisson Back

259   Ev 229 Back

260   Ministry of Justice, Working in partnership to reduce re-offending and make communities safer, October 2008 Back

261   The Criminal Justice Act 2003 made provision for the introduction of a custody plus order - a new sentence of imprisonment for 12 months or less. Part of the sentence would have been served in the community under statutory supervision. The Government's intention was that this order would replace short prison sentences with effect from November 2006 but implementation was postponed. Back

262   Q 344, 543 [Ms Greatley, Mr Scott]; Ev 183 [Magistrates' Association]. New research by Matrix has calculated that diverting one offender from custody to residential drug treatment would save £75,000 to the criminal justice system over the lifetime of the offender. There are further savings of £13,000 to the NHS and £112,000 to victims. Back

263   Qq 321-324 [Mr Hadjipavlou], Q 541 [Commander Jarman] Back

264   Qq 344 [Ms Greatley]; Q 349 [Mr Rinaldi, Ms Hennessey]  Back

265   Ev 286 Back

266   Q 349 Back

267   Ev 287 Back

268   Q 344 Back

269   Ibid.  Back

270   Ev 287 Back

271   Social Exclusion Task Force, Reaching out: an action plan on social exclusion, 2006 Back

272   The volume of re-offending has fallen by 28% since 2000 but this age group still re-offends at the highest rate (178.8 offences per 100 re-offenders). Back

273   Ev 269 Back

274   Transition to Adulthood Alliance, A new start: young adults in the criminal justice system, July 2009 Back

275   Ev 235 Back

276   Ev 258 Back

277   Ev 236ff Back

278   Ev 304ff. For example, at least 50% of women in prison have been victims of childhood abuse and/or domestic violence, see Ev 304 Back

279   Q 235 Back

280   Q 181 Back

281   Oral evidence taken before the Justice Committee on 3 June 2008, HC (2007-08), 649-i, Q 15 Back

282   Q 574 Back

283   Ibid. Back

284   Speech by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, 28 October 2008, Royal Society for the Arts. Back

285   Q 337 Back

286   Q 484 Back

287   A revised strategic plan has not materialised and it appears to have been superseded by the broader update on the direction of criminal justice policy entitled Punishment and ReformBack

288   Strategic Plan for Reducing Re-offending 2008-11. Working in Partnership to Reduce Re-offending and Make Communities Safer: A Consultation, Ministry of Justice, 2008 Back

289   Office for Criminal Justice Reform, The Criminal Justice System Business Plan 2008-09, February 2008, p 6 Back

290   Q 577 [Mr Campbell] Back

291   Q 453 Back

292   Julian Corner, From pathways to firewalls-a more 'solid' approach to prison reform in Advancing Opportunity: routes in and out of the criminal justice system, The Smith Institute, 2008, p 116 Back

293   Q 167 Back

294   Public Administration Committee, Governing the future on strategic thinking in Whitehall, Second Report of Session
2006-07, HC123-I, p 3 

295   Cabinet Office, Civil Service Capability Review: Ministry of Justice Baseline Assessment, April 2008. Back

296   Ibid, p 6  Back

297   National Audit Office, National Probation Service: The Supervision of Community Orders in England and Wales, January 2008 Back

298   Q 472 Back

299   National Offender Management Service, National Commissioning and Partnerships Framework 2008/09, February 2008,
p 17 

300   Ev 222 Back

301   Ev 222 Back

302   Ev 222-223 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 14 January 2010