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The Campbell Collaboration - Policy Brief 4: The Effects of Sentencing Policy on Re-Offending

14th November 2017

The Campbell Collaboration is an international organisation that produces systematic reviews and other evidence in the aim to promote social and economic change.  On 14th November the Campbell Collaboration released their fourth Policy Brief entitled ‘The effects of sentencing policy on re-offending’ which summarises evidence from 12 systematic reviews, including  reviews of the benefit-cost analyses of sentencing, the effects of parental imprisonment on child antisocial behaviour and mental health, formal processing of juveniles, and the effects on re-offending of custodial vs non-custodial sanctions. During the research for this Policy Brief, the Campbell Collaboration examined nearly 400 studies about sentencing policies in criminal justice systems and the effects on re-offending.

The Campbell Collaboration highlights that the number of people in penal institutions is now over 10 million people, which is an increase of 20% since 2000, and that politicians continue to call for longer and harder prison sentences in order to be ‘tough on crime’. The Campbell Collaboration compared non-custodial sentences and custodial sentences and looked at different prison regimes in order to identify whether the call of politicians to be ‘tough on crime’ is legitimate.

The Campbell Collaboration looked at recidivism rates of offenders who have been sentenced to custodial sanctions and those who have been sentenced to non-custodial sanctions, and it was found that custodial sentences did not reduce the rate of recidivism more than non-custodial sentences. Moreover, it was found that diversion programmes for young offenders which prevent them entering the criminal justice system and courts can lead to reduced re-offending. The systemic review also found that children of imprisoned parents were at a heightened risk of developing antisocial behaviour and poor mental health outcomes compared to children without parents in prison.

Regarding the different types of prison regimes, it was found that sentences that included programmes addressing the nature of the offence were often effective. For example, in the case of drug-involved offenders, it was found that prison sentences which included the offender being monitored by drug courts, drug treatment programmes, and/or therapeutic communities have an effect on reducing the recidivism rates of drug users. Also, sexual offender treatment programmes provided positive results in relation to recidivism rates, with cognitive-behaviour programs and multi-systemic approaches showing particularly effective results.

See Campbell Collaboration Policy Brief ‘The effects of sentencing policy on re-offending’ here.

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