The UK’s Ministry of Justice recently released a paper entitled Compendium of Re-offending Statistics and Analysis aiming to reliably compare proven re-offending rates between offenders receiving short custodial sentences and offenders commencing a court order under probation supervision.
Previous statistics comparing the rate of reconviction between those receiving short custodial sentences and those upon whom a community alternative is imposed have been hotly contested, constantly receiving the claim of unreliability. This is primarily due to the allegation that comparisons in the past were not comparing like with like, that those offenders receiving community alternates are a completely different group with entirely different characteristics than their short term custodial counterparts.
The principal intention of the paper was to construct comparable groups of offenders from these disposal types taking individual offender characteristics into account to enable a more robust comparison rates. It was hoped that by controlling for static offender characteristics, such as age, gender, offence type and criminal career it would be possible to produce comparative rates from the usual critique. It is important to note here that the report does not claim to be infallible, recognising its inability to control for dynamic characteristics such as offender employment needs or accommodation status that are likely to influence sentencing decisions and also the likelihood of proven re-offending.
The results show that when controlling for such characteristics offenders receiving short term custodial sentences reoffend at a rate 7% higher than similar offenders commencing a court order under probation supervision. Interesting, the report concluded that differences in previous custodial sentences are unlikely to account for the differences in proven reoffending rates for short custodial sentences and community orders.
This result, although a reduction on some previous reports supporting the increased use of custodial alternatives, is to be highly welcomed, demonstrating the success of non imprisonment sentences and free from the most serious criticisms directed at past research. It was a paper conservative in nature and so there is a chance that the differential comparative rate could in fact be higher. Either way, it represents that cost saving, and less emotionally and socially damaging alternatives to prison are successful in keeping communities safer by reducing reconviction.
The report also dealt with the characteristics of prisoners that were likely to increase the possibility of reconviction. Its major contentions and finding in this are were:
· Reconviction rates were higher for prisoners who experienced violence in the home (58% compared to 48%), emotional, sexual or physical abuse as a child, who had been expelled or permanently excluded from school, or who had no qualifications (61% compared to 45%).
· Prisoners who were unemployed before committal were more likely to reoffend (65% compared to 40%). There was a similar finding in regards Accommodation before imprisonment. 79% of those who were homeless reconvicted compared to 47% of those who had accommodation.
· A piloted programme, the Enhanced Thinking Skills, a cognitive-behavioural offending behaviour programme that addresses thinking and behaviour associated with offending and aims to reduce reoffending, reduced reconviction rates by 6% illustrating the necessity to focus on offenders psychological needs.