Sentencing, Reparation, Offender Management & Costs

Key sources

1)    Statistics

  • MOJ – Story of the prison population 1995-2009[1]
  • Offender Management Statistics Quarterly[2]
  • Prison Population Projections 2011-2017 England and Wales[3]
  • Compendium of reoffending statistics and analysis (MOJ, 2010 and 2011)

2)    Research and Analysis

  • Mair (2011) The community order in England and Wales: Policy and practice[4]
  • Mills (2011) Community Sentences: a solution to penal excess?[5]
  • Hedderman’s chapter in The Handbook of Probation (2007) thoroughly reviews research of effectiveness of sentencing.
  • Marsh et al. (2009) Is custody an effective sentencing option for the UK?
  • Killias, et al. (2006) – evidence for Campbell Collaboration systematic review
  • McDougall (2009) Benefit-cost analysis of sentencing – Campbell Collaboration
  • Allen (2009) Changing public attitudes to crime and punishment[6]
  • MOJ research and analysis 2010 and 2011[7].
  • Fox and Albertson (2010) Could economics solve the prison crisis?[8]
  • Aos (2011) Return on Investment: Evidence-Based Options to Improve Statewide Outcomes[9]
  • Matrix (2007) The economic case for and against prison[10]
  • MOJ (2010c) Green Paper Evidence Report[11]

Key points

1)    Growth in prison population[12]

  • The prison population grew rapidly from 1993 to 2008 at an average of 4% per year.
  • This increase was due to increased severity of custodial sentencing, increased recalls following breach of licence conditions, and these offenders spending longer in prison once recalled.
  • Growth slowed from summer 2008 (average 1% per year), until the public disorder of August 2011.
  • The recent flatter trend had been due to CJIA 2008 and falls in remand population due to fast delivery pre-sentence reports.
  • At the end of September 2011 the prison population was 87,501 – an increase of 2% from the previous year.
  • By 2017, on 2011 projections[13] – which provide for ‘lower’, ‘medium’ and ‘higher’ scenarios –  the population could either rise or fall.

2)    Probation caseload[14]

  • Annual probation caseload increased by 39% between 2000 and 2008.
  • This rise was driven by the introduction of the Suspended Sentence Order (SSO) and increased pre and post custody release supervision.
  • The use of community sentences declined from 2005, while the use of SSOs increased and then stabilised.

3)    Impact of community sentences on prison population[15] [16]

  • Trends in the use of SSOs and community orders suggest the former may have tended to replace the latter.
  • Strengthening of community orders has not worked to reduce the size of the prison population.

4)    What sentences work to reduce reoffending?

  • Probation supervision is more effective in reducing reoffending than prison sentences of less than 12 months. For 2007 sentences, the difference was 7 percentage points[17]. For 2008 sentences the difference was between 5 and 9 percentage points[18].
  • Where longer prison sentences allow delivery of effective interventions they may be more effective than shorter sentences which lack effective interventions.[19].
  • There were only small differences in reoffending between SSOs and fines. Comparison with conditional discharges suggests that they were more effective than community sentences by 5.6 percentage points[20].
  • All attempts to compare global effectiveness of disposals are hampered by the difficulty of controlling for the full range of factors on which decision making may be based.
  • In general prison is not more effective than community sentences. Killias et al. (2006)[21] systematically reviewed controlled or natural experiments concluding that reoffending after non-custodial sanctions was lower in 11 out of 13 comparisons, with no difference in 14 out of 27 comparisons.[22]
  • There is ‘little to choose’ in making global comparisons between imprisonment and community penalties in reducing reoffending. This was Hedderman’s conclusion in her 2007 review.[23] She explained the problems in making ‘raw’ comparisons between dissimilar groups that seem to favour one over the other, and also the technical criticisms that can be made of various studies.
  • As the prison population increased, reoffending also increased.Hedderman (2007) discussed how examination of trends over time may suggest that prison became less effective as its use increased.[24]
  • Marsh et al. (2009)[25] in another meta-analysis found no evidence for the benefits of prison alone in reducing reoffending. More effective than prison were: residential drug treatment, surveillance; surveillance with drug treatment; and prison in combination with a range of treatments.[26]
  • Elements of sentences should be compared rather than sentences as a whole. This is because prison and community sentences have overlapping aims, and may include similar elements, such as rehabilitative programmes. It is more useful to think in terms of the effectiveness of activities undertaken with offenders in each setting.

5)    What doesn’t work?

  • Militaristic regimes do not work. A 2005 systematic review of ‘correctional boot camps’ – common in the US – showed that they are not effective.[27]
  • Organised visits to prison for juveniles at risk do not work. ‘Scared Straight’ programmes do not work.[28]
  • Short sentences do not work. OMSAS (2009) analysis indicated that short prison sentences are unlikely to have benefits in terms of reducing reoffending.[29] Short sentences are limited in their potential to intervene to reduce reoffending. They also have social costs which are difficult to quantify. A 2010 NAO report[30] indicates that prisons are failing to meet the offending-related needs of short-sentenced prisoners. Courts are not using community orders as much as they might as alternatives to short prison sentences.[31] The ineffectiveness of short prison sentences is reinforced by comparisons presented in the 2010 and 2011 Compendia of reoffending statistics and analysis.

6)    Reparation and Restorative Justice[32]

  • MOJ evidence for the green paper Breaking the Cycle highlights a developing evidence base for restorative justice as a means of reparation.
  • While Shapland’s (2008) re-offending analysis had been previously interpreted as inconclusive, later MOJ analysis is more positive.

7)    Economic analysis

  • Current methods of for assessing benefits and costs are not good enough. McDougall et al. (2008)[33] systematically reviewed cost-benefit studies and found firm conclusions difficult to draw. This was due to small number of studies and lack of commonly accepted methods.
  • Prison is the most costly sentencing option.
  • The Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) has calculated (last updated July 2011) returns on investment for public policies in the US. Data are presented for rates of return on investment for a range of interventions in the community and in prison[34].
  • Matrix Knowledge Group (2007) presented specific cost savings for the following adult community interventions: residential drug treatment; surveillance; and surveillance with drug treatment[35]. Their data was insufficient to determine the overall impact of community supervision compared to prison.
  • The Home Office have launched a tool for assessing value for money for Integrated Offender Management projects[36].

8)    Recent  evaluations related to Offender Management (2011)

  • Intensive Alternatives to Custody pilots[37] – Average cost is £5000 per year per offender. No reoffending data currently available, but likely to be more cost effective than prison.
  • Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA)[38] – pre and post comparisons of reconviction are promising, suggesting a fall of 2.7 percentage points.
  • Home Detention Curfew (HDC)[39] – Costs £1300 for 90 days, compared to average cost of £6500 for 90 days imprisonment. Early released prisoners were no more likely to reoffend than similar prisoners who were not released.
  • Offender Management – Quantitative data is not yet available from the Offender Management Community Cohort Study. A recent qualitative report[40] of practitioner views broadly supports the concept while highlighting resource issues. The report also highlights the need to stabilise offenders (for example by addressing alcohol  issues) to enable effective sequencing of interventions.
  • Integrated Offender Management Process Evaluation of Five Integrated Offender Management Pioneer Areas[41] describes local variations in concept and implementation. Evaluation of the Diamond Initiative did not find a statistically significant benefit of integrated offender management[42].

In the pipeline

Statistics, Research and Analysis

  • Offender Management Statistics Quarterly
  • Prison Population Projections (Annual)
  • 2012 Compendium of reoffending statistics and analysis
  • OMSAS unit costs study of interventions
  • Further economic analyses
  • Reports on ‘Payment by results’ pilots
  • Reports on Integrated Offender Management projects