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UK: 'Community or Custody: Which Works Best?' (Final Report)

12th September 2011

Make Justice Work (MJW) is a national campaign in the UK aimed at reforming the way the criminal justice system deals with low-level offenders. The goal of the campaign is to inform policy makers about the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of robust alternatives to short-term prison sentences.

With this in mind, coupled with the fact that 65% of prisoners in the UK are serving sentences less than 12 months, Make Justice Work commissioned a National Enquiry to investigate and compare the value and efficacy of short-term prison sentences and community based alternatives to custody.

The Enquiry, entitled Community or Custody: Which Works Best?, comprised of a renowned group of criminal justice experts, political commentators and campaigners.  The Enquiry held four investigative meetings at four different locations around the country, with each meeting focusing on a specific category of offender.

  • The Manchester meetings focused on the Intensive Alternative to Custody Programme and looked at males aged 18-25 in particular.
  • The meetings in Leicester looked at alcohol and drug abuse of offenders.
  • The London meetings highlighted the issues surrounding the mental health of offenders.
  • In West Yorkshire the focus was on women offenders and looked at the success of the Together Women Project in particular.

The Report not only found that spells in prison do not act as an effective deterrent for multiple low-level offenders and offer little relief to the community, but it also highlighted the significant savings to the taxpayer when some community options were favoured over custody.

The four main recommendations of the Enquiry were:

  1. Victims must be given Confidence in the Procedure - Community sentence options must not be seen as a soft option.
  2. Confronting causes of Crime - Community sentence options should and could be used to address the root causes for offending and as a result prevent re-offending.
  3. No Passing the Buck - Effective partnerships between criminal justice agencies is crucial for successful community alternatives.
  4. Holding Community Services to Account - In order for community alternatives to be a success, it is essential that judges, magistrates and local communities are made aware of the community services.

The authors hope that this Report will go towards informing the community of alternatives to custody and instill confidence in what actually works instead of what simply looks tough.  It is believed that robust based community based alternatives will help offenders move towards a stable, productive and crime-free life. It is hoped that by utilising community based alternatives the savings generated will allow the Government to invest in tackling the causes of offending.

Read more:

  • Read the full report here.
  • View the Project website here.
  • Visit it the Make Justice Work website here.