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


58. Witnesses raised serious concerns about the detrimental effect that the existing level of Government spending on prisons has had on its ability to dedicate sufficient resources to other less costly means of dealing with offenders, in particular non-custodial sentences, which may be more effective in reducing crime by many offenders. They also expressed fears about the impact of committing such a high level of new resource to building large prisons on the already dire financial shortfall in probation resources.

Expenditure on prisons and probation


59. Reform of the whole criminal justice system has taken place alongside developments to bring together the criminal justice agencies specifically responsible for delivering the sentences of the courts—prisons and probation, also known as 'correctional services'. In 2004, following an earlier major independent review, again by Patrick Carter (now Lord Carter of Coles), which included a detailed examination of the cost-effectiveness of correctional services, the Home Office announced plans to bring prisons and probation together as one organisation; the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).[84] NOMS, which began operations in June 2004, had the explicit purpose to deliver a reduction in re-offending and improved public protection and the new organisation was expected to pay for itself through gains in efficiency savings. Patrick Carter envisaged that his proposals for NOMS "should keep numbers under supervision lower than forecast" but emphasised that this also relied on the effectiveness of the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which was also created in 2004.[85]

60. Patrick Carter coined the phrase "offender management" to refer both to his national framework for handling offenders and processes for handing individual offenders. However the passage of the Offender Management Act 2007 resulted in a model which is predominantly regional but includes an element of local commissioning, with newly created probation trusts to replace probation boards in time, and become both providers and commissioners of services.

61. In 2008 NOMS was restructured and re-established as an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Justice retains responsibility for strategic oversight of policy and direction and NOMS is expected to commission and provide services which deliver to a specified framework. Directors of Offender Management have been appointed to take responsibility for devolved budgets for commissioning services in each region.

62. Spending on NOMS, prisons and probation represents 35% of the budget for the criminal justice system, illustrated in the chart below.

63. The total NOMS budget for 2008-09 was £4bn billion.[86] Expenditure on prisons comprised the lion's share; just under £1bn (£915m) was reserved for probation services.

64. The total budget for correctional services has grown since 2001 but our calculations indicate that this growth has not been as extensive, in real terms, as the Ministry of Justice has claimed. We estimate that there has been a 17.9% real terms increase in expenditure for NOMS, prison and probation between 2002 and 2008.[87]

Efficiency savings

65. In October 2008, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, Sir Suma Chakrabarti, explained to us that his department was required to make savings totalling £1.3 billion by 2012. This included £0.3 billion to provide funding for new projects and a margin for contingency in addition to the figure for savings announced following the Autumn 2007 comprehensive spending review. The worsening economic situation has since resulted in the need for an additional £70m savings from the Ministry of Justice in 2010-11.[88] He was unable to tell us the likely extent of job losses on the frontline as a result of these savings[89] but there was speculation in the press, that 1,320 jobs may be lost in the probation service and 2,672 in the prison service.[90] He told us that the final decisions on headcount reductions would not be made until December 2008.[91] The Rt Hon David Hanson MP, then Prisons Minister, said that the re-established NOMS agency was expected to deliver efficiency savings in 2009/10 by reducing duplication in the management structures of prison and probation at regional and head office level, thus trying to protect the frontline delivery of correctional services.[92] The total efficiency savings that NOMS is expected to achieve for 2009/10 is £171m.[93]

66. The Chief Executive of NOMS, Phil Wheatley, assured us, that the prison estate is expanding at the same time as it is becoming more efficient, so there would be no fewer prison officers.[94] This of course implies more prisoners per prison officer which does not bode well for relationship-building, pro-social modelling or other aspects of managing, challenging and improving offender behaviour.[95] The implications of efficiency savings for frontline probation staffing are equally unclear. The then Director of Probation, Roger Hill, outlined expected probation budgets to 2012 and revealed that £120 million would need to be cut over this period.[96]

67. We are concerned that the Ministry of Justice is overly focused on how each individual service can continue to function with reduced resources rather than assessing the most effective allocation of resources across the system as a whole.

The impact on capacity

68. Witnesses expressed concerns that recent progress in reducing re-offending and probation performance could be undermined by the continued expansion of the system alongside budget restrictions. For example, Napo described the Ministry of Justice's strategy as being pre-occupied with crisis management and the efficiency of resources.[97] Andrew Bridges, Her Majesty's Inspector of Probation, explained that the widening gap between probation budgets and demands on the service had been met in recent years with efficiency savings. He believed that it would be counter-productive to expect more savings in the future, and that it would instead be necessary for hard decisions to be made about what probation should be expected to achieve within its allocated resources.[98] David Faulkner, Senior Research Associate, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford also expressed doubts as to whether further savings were a sustainable solution to funding system expansion.[99]

69. Professor Cynthia McDougall, Co-Director of the Centre for Criminal Justice Economics and Psychology, University of York, described the impact that expansion has on the system:

    We have a finite amount of money for prisons and a finite amount of money for probation, and although sentences are not restricted by how much money there is, nevertheless, if there are too many prisoners for the spaces in prison, the prison has to cope, and it does cope, but it copes by being overcrowded, by having people sharing cells who should not be sharing cells, it has situations where it cannot run programmes in the same way as they did, perhaps because of the overcrowding you have disturbances in the prison, you have not got quite the level of decency that you would want, and you might also have suicides because of that […] In probation you have got a similar situation.[100]

She explained that as a result of stretched resources, the system is unable to be proactive and take resources into account in a rational way.[101]

70. The Ministry of Justice has explicitly stated that there is a shortfall of resources to meet demand:

    Across the whole of the justice system, demand for our services is growing. Despite falling crime rates, more offenders are being sent to prison, and more are receiving community sentences which need probation resources. These challenging demands mean that prisons and probation face rising expectations. Coupled with changes in demand, we have a challenging spending review settlement that means an increased focus on offending is crucial.[102]


71. The potential for the costs of other elements of the criminal justice system, and offender management in particular, to put the funding of courts at risk has been raised in the House of Lords.[103] Court caseloads are rising, in Crown Courts in particular.[104] The National Audit Office (NAO) identified that, while the physical capacity of courts will be extended by 6% by 2012, the workforce has reduced by 6% since 2005 and some courts are running at full operational capacity. Despite reductions in Her Majesty's Courts Service's annual budget up to 2010, expenditure on the frontline is projected to remain the same.[105] However the NAO was critical of the approach taken by the courts service to assess the resources required to meet its projected future workload. We note the recent announcement of plans to consult on the closure of a number of "under utilised" magistrates courts.[106]


72. Several witnesses, including Napo and Sarah Pearce, a Durham magistrate, commented on the detrimental effects that prison over-crowding and reduced resources can have on the effectiveness of prison, in terms of rehabilitation and the prevention of re-offending.[107] The impact that efficiency savings are having on a prison system which is becoming increasingly overcrowded is most strikingly apparent in the loss of half a day in prison regimes.[108] Paul Tidball, chair of the Prison Governors' Association, warned that the commitment to expand the capacity of the prison estate, whilst spending less on existing prisons, risks undermining the effectiveness of the latter.[109] He has since raised concerns that efficiency savings impact on public sector prisons only as a result of the Government's contractual obligations to private prisons.[110]

73. Ellie Roy, the former chief executive of the Youth Justice Board, explained to us that, as a result of inflation and the rising costs of utilities and food, the costs of custody will keep rising even if the numbers stay the same.[111] Table 2 illustrates that the cost of an average prison place has risen by £6000 over the last 5 years.

Table 2: Average cost of prison places

Average cost of prison place

Source: Hansard 3 Feb 2009: column 1176W, figures are to the nearest £500

74. For this reason Paul Tidball argued that, in order to maintain existing levels of effectiveness, the number of prison places would have to be reduced.[112] The Local Government Association and Clinks, which supports voluntary organisations that work with offenders and their families, argued that the prison population must be reduced to enable constructive prison regimes to be run effectively.[113] We discuss the running costs of new prison capacity later in this chapter.


75. Probation caseloads have increased every year since 1997 with the exception of 2000 and 2001.[114] Napo described the Probation Service as "over-burdened", drawing our attention to very high probation caseloads with probation officers routinely now having 70 to 100 cases each.[115] While the Government argued that increases in expenditure on probation up to 2005 subsidise this,[116] caseloads have increased by 3% between 2006 and 2007.[117] We calculated that the probation budget actually declined in real terms by 14.8% between 2002 and 2008.[118] Napo remained "unconvinced" that the additional resources have all gone to the frontline, highlighting the high overhead costs of NOMS headquarters.[119]

76. Frances Crook, of the Howard League, also said that probation resources are not getting to the frontline.[120] Both she and Nacro explained that high caseloads do not allow for the level of supervision and support required to manage offenders in the community, particularly those with high levels of offending-related needs; thus making it impossible for probation to deliver the service properly and hence reducing the risk to public safety.[121] The Magistrates' Association stated that the inadequacy of probation resources impinges on the effectiveness of non-custodial sentences aimed at reducing re-offending.[122] The Revolving Doors Agency and David Faulkner, Senior Research Associate, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford shared this view, highlighting the lack of capacity of probation to meet the support needs of offenders, including the delivery of courses, treatment and unpaid work placements.[123] This resulted in insufficient funding for probation to implement what is known to be effective practice.

77. There remain wide disparities in the use and availability of requirements[124] that can be attached to community orders. The National Audit Office (NAO) found that many of the 12 sentence requirements available to the courts are not available in certain areas and offenders often do not receive vital requirements if they are not available locally.[125] Potentially rehabilitative requirements such as alcohol treatment and mental health treatment[126] in particular are under-used in relation to offenders' needs.[127]

78. According to the National Audit Office and the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health this under-use can, in addition to other more practical obstacles, be accounted for by insufficient funding and failures in partnership arrangements.[128] For example, the Ministry of Justice provides additional funding to the Department of Health to support offenders with serious drug problems but this is not the case for alcohol treatment. Probation areas must arrange provision of alcohol treatment directly with local primary care trusts and these arrangements had not been made in all areas at the time of the NAO study. The accountability of agencies outside the criminal justice system for their contribution to reducing re-offending is discussed further in chapters 4 and 6.

79. Napo explained that the under-use of some requirements may be due to costs and lack of resources for their provision.[129] Notwithstanding the costs of treatment itself, these requirements cost much more for probation staff to manage than stand-alone supervision: it costs an average of £3,700 for a mental health requirement; £1,920 for a drug treatment and; £1,670 for an alcohol treatment compared to simple probation supervision costing £650.[130] The under-use of requirements is therefore a matter of scarcity of resources both for external community provision and for probation.

80. The Ministry of Justice acknowledged that alcohol and mental health treatment requirements are not available or rarely attached in some areas.[131] It suggested two reasons for this. Firstly, NOMS was still in negotiation with the Department of Health to improve the level of service. Secondly, in some areas probation workloads had increased to the extent that decisions had been taken to restrict the delivery of some requirements for a temporary period in order to meet budgetary restrictions. Pursuing departmental objectives should not get in the way of Government policy and should be dealt with by respective Ministers.

81. In February 2008, an additional £40m was made available to improve the capacity of probation to deliver community orders and to support the delivery of alcohol treatment amongst other gaps related to the increase in probation workloads.[132] This payment was intended as a one-off allocation but it was repeated in 2009. In our subsequent discussions with Ministers it became clear that this is seen by the Ministry of Justice as sufficient to overcome the difficulties with probation capacity but we are not convinced that this has been based on any assessment of the scale of need.[133]

82. The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies concluded that the additional £40m was unlikely to compensate for the impact of continuing budget reductions and warned that there was a risk of court sentences not being carried out because of resource shortfalls.[134] All three organisations which represent probation staff and management have described the extent of the problem with probation resources. In 2007 the Probation Boards' Association (now the Probation Association)[135] found that the national picture was of "moderate to severe financial difficulty with a widening gap between demand (workload) and resources (money and staff)"; almost one third of boards expected to have to make redundancies over the next three years.[136] Napo's more recent calculations indicated that the level of efficiency savings now required equates to average cuts of 20% which could lead to 3,000 job losses, resulting in concerns that the high levels of probation performance may fall and suggested that there is a real risk of reversing the trend in declining re-offending and hence increased crime.[137] David Scott, then chair of the Probation Chiefs' Association, described the resource shortfall for probation as "corrosive".[138] Lord Ramsbotham warned that probation was so overwhelmed that it was not sure exactly what it was doing; neither is it able to do enough either with higher risk or low seriousness offenders.[139]

83. We also encountered some anxiety that probation funding would be further restricted as a result of the expansion of the prison estate. In relation to a question about the supply and demand for prison places, David Scott told us that probation was at a "critical cross-roads" and added:

    […] there is a critical issue about what the balance is and should be between the prison population and offenders being sentenced in the community. There is a real risk that probation is drawn into the crossfire of that.[140]

84. The Magistrates' Association agreed, warning that there was a risk of funds for probation being reduced to allow for further prison provision.[141] These concerns are discussed later in this chapter.


85. Mike Thomas, Association of Youth Offending Team Managers, made similar observations about the capacity of youth offending teams to work constructively with an increasing number of young people. He suggested that recent progress in the performance of the youth justice system may be undermined as resources are spread "thinner and thinner":

    We know from the Audit Commission report of 1996 that […] the amount of time being spent face to face with young people was just over an hour a week. The 2004 Report basically said it had hardly increased at all. I think now, if we were to look at again, because we have seen more youngsters come into the system in the last four years, we would be back to an hour a week. That is not a sufficient amount of time to turn around a young person's offending lifestyle. [142]

86. Frances Done, Chair of the Youth Justice Board, agreed that YOTs' ability to prioritise within scarce resources was limited.[143]

87. We have grave concerns about the impact of efficiency savings on practice at the frontline for both prisons and probation, which will undoubtedly undermine the progress in performance of both services. Neither prisons nor probation have the capacity to keep up with the current levels of offenders entering the system. It is not sustainable to finance the costs of running additional prison places and greater probation caseloads from efficiency savings in the long-term.

88. The Government's over-emphasis on use of custody as a criminal justice response, although partially addressed by the promotion of community sentences for short-sentenced prisoners, intensive alternatives to custody and integrated offender management, has left a legacy that resources for effective community-based interventions have been depleted in relative terms and are now spread far too thinly. The Government must go very much further than paying £40m to correct this imbalance; the sooner it recognises this, the less damaging it will be to the confidence of the public and sentencers and to long-term finances. The test with the pilots will be whether resources are provided to roll them out across the country. We are concerned that there are no probation staff at a senior level in NOMS: this suggests a lack of advocacy on behalf of probation for better resources. We have not seen any evidence which suggests that bringing together prisons and probation has yet had a positive impact; in fact the available evidence on the financial outcomes of this merger point to the contrary. We are deeply concerned at this indication that the Government is moving further towards a prisons-oriented criminal justice system.

Costs of system expansion

89. Clive Martin, Director of Clinks, believed that prisons are presented as a no-cost option but argued that we should send to prison only those who absolutely need imprisonment.[144] The Secretary of State told us that "nothing would be lost" if, as the prison estate is expanded, the system become more successful at reducing re-offending and diverting offenders from custody. He argued that the additional headroom created would enable old, inappropriate and inefficient accommodation to be removed.[145] The NOMS Strategic Plan to 2011 explains how costs will be saved as a result:

    By increasing capacity, the Prison Capacity Programme will ease pressure on existing resources by freeing up resource to focus on core areas of delivery and by reducing the potential call on expensive police cells. Replacing old accommodation with more modern prison establishments will lead to savings in overhead and running costs.[146]

90. Ministers were unable to give us an indication of the estimated total capital and running costs required to develop the three Titan prisons despite being questioned several times prior to dropping these plans.[147] The Ministry of Justice has now estimated that the total cost of the new prison building programme over 35 years is between £3.2 and £4.2 billion, yielding benefits of between £480 million to £1,850 million[148] factoring in the social value of crime prevented and costs saved through the planned decommissioning of 5000 places which are inefficient.[149] Figures are adjusted (discounted) to take account of savings made over 35 years by building now rather than at a later date; the average capital build cost per place without adjustment for inflation almost tripled to £153,000 between 1998 and 2008.[150] The running costs for the existing additional prison places are estimated to cost £482 million per year to run, representing a 16% increase in the annual prison budget.[151] While the running costs of the new capacity programme of larger prisons may be lower than for the existing building programme[152] this is dependent on securing private finance which may be difficult in the current economic climate.

91. These huge sums of money have been committed without any obvious cost-benefit analysis of alternative options or any public consultation on the desirability of a prison building programme. There are serious long-term financial implications for the taxpayer and for the rest of the criminal justice system. The vast majority of prison building in recent years has been funded by private finance initiatives and all the planned new prisons will be built and managed privately, adding to the existing private finance debt.[153] Professor Ian Loader believed that: "the way in which we are using, and under the Titan regime [would] continue to use, imprisonment is a candidate for the mismanagement of public money".[154]

92. It has become apparent that the prison building programme will have a considerable immediate impact on other parts of the criminal justice system, which are already struggling to keep pace with increased demand. Rt Hon David Hanson, then Prisons Minister, explained how he must balance costs to fund the additional prison places:

    I am very anxious to try to continue to do work on community-based activities, on prevention, on re-offending for people who go through probation and the community, but at the same time I have also to look at funding the cost of additional prison places in revenue costs, and we have got 4,000 extra places this year which all have a revenue cost, and we have to look at what we do to people in prison in a much more effective way than we have done in the past to change their behaviour, and that has a cost as well.[155]

93. We believe that some of the additional £300 million efficiency savings, discussed above, are required to finance the prison expansion programme. In February 2008 NOMS stated that plans for £250m efficiency savings to 2010-11 would be subject to change once the implications of Lord Carter's recommendations on prisons were fully scoped out.[156] Despite this uncertainty over the exact amount of savings, NOMS expected regional commissioners to continue planning for the provision of prison and probation services:

    The impact of Carter will need to be factored into commissioning negotiations, not only for prison service level agreements but also in terms of the impact on community services and our partners. [157]

94. Furthermore, NOMS made it clear that if commissioners were unable to make sufficient savings to balance their budgets via "robust negotiations" in commissioning, they would need to "negotiate disinvestments" i.e. cut services.[158] The total level of efficiency savings that NOMS is now expected to deliver has doubled to more than £500 million in the period to March 2011.[159]

95. Some of the best intervention work with offenders is undertaken by voluntary organisations or other third sector bodies. In some cases these are major national organisations while others are small local or regional bodies with scarce resources. Government contracting policy has sometimes put an unacceptable level of pressure on such organisations which are squeezed by a departmental wish to cut overheads while contracting with larger bodies or with commercial organisations rather than with a larger number of smaller organisations which are closer to the coalface. We are worried about the references to "negotiating disinvestments" as this could lead to further damage to the sector which contributes so much to reducing re-offending. The Ministry of Justice and NOMS should pay more attention to the Compact agreement between Government and the voluntary and community sector in England. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice reject any move away from contracting with small organisations with proven track records in providing rehabilitative services for offenders in the name of reducing administrative overheads. Other options should be examined for reducing costs in this area.

96. We are at a loss to see how the additional running costs which must be found for both this and the new capacity programme can be secured without radical longer-term expenditure reductions elsewhere. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice publishes its estimates of the financial impact of both the existing prison building programme, and the new building programme, on the rest of the criminal justice system.

97. Some 16 months lapsed between the announcement of the prison building programme and the production of the business case which enabled the procurement of land to commence. The additional places will not be delivered in full for a further five years. The Government has spent too much time pursuing an unrealistic attempt to build its way out of the prisons crisis. Lord Carter's review of prisons, and the stark demonstration of the exorbitant costs of penal expansion, should have been seen as a watershed and a warning against the "predict and provide" approach to criminal justice policy. The reaction against the proposed Titan prisons should be seized by the Government as an opportunity to switch direction and halt the seemingly inexorable growth of imprisonment.

Effectiveness of prison and probation programmes in reducing crime

98. The public perception of the aims of prison and probation in terms of crime reduction appears to be three-fold: first, to prevent offenders from causing further harm within their communities through physical incapacitation (this applies predominantly to imprisonment); second, to act as a deterrent to anyone contemplating committing a crime; and third, to rehabilitate offenders so that they become less likely, rather than more likely, to re-offend on completion of their punishment.

99. Prisons have become more effective at the physical incapacitation of serious and violent offenders through effective incarceration, separating offenders from the general public for the duration of their time in prison. This can be demonstrated by statistics on prison escapes and abscondings which are at a record low.[160] On the other hand, the available evidence suggests that prison does not act as an effective deterrent to crime and is not perceived as such except by the already generally law-abiding citizenry.[161] 'Professional' criminals are likely to view prison as a more or less acceptable hazard and a majority of other prolific offenders are ill-equipped—by virtue of mental ill health, learning disability, behavioural issues, the effects of drug or alcohol misuse or other factors—to make such judgements or, having made them, to act thereon.

100. The effectiveness of prisons in preventing re-offending through rehabilitation is less easy to demonstrate. According to the National Audit Office, significant barriers exist in principle to prison regimes having significant impacts on the rates of re-offending.[162] The Chair of the Prison Governors' Association, Paul Tidball, felt that investing resources for rehabilitation in prisons was worthwhile but he questioned the financial sense of not using those resources in communities as an alternative to custody or a means of preventing it:

    The £1 million spent on a new drugs rehabilitation unit in [my] prison did not make a lot of financial sense in terms of those women [prisoners] attending it who were not serious offenders in the first place and who were dragged 150 miles away from their homes in Haverford West to Staffordshire, or whatever the example may be, at the cost not just of the rehabilitation unit but housing them at the current cost £30,000 a year and the disruption of their home life.[163]

101. Ian Porée of the National Offender Management Service, admitted that, whilst "very full" prisons are not the most effective way of delivering rehabilitation and reform for offenders, re-offending levels have improved. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that a large number of people are going through the system again and again.[164]

102. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice recently emphasised the renewed attention his teams were paying to the "repeat offending agenda".[165] Reconviction is used as a proxy measure for re-offending because it is the best indicator available, although there were obvious limitations in its use. Until recently no indicators existed to monitor progress in reducing reconvictions at local level, either for prisons or probation.[166] Following two independent reviews of crime statistics,[167] the Government introduced more sophisticated measures of re-offending, to include the volume and severity of offences committed. The baseline indicator of effectiveness now relates to the volume of re-offending.[168]

103. Government targets to reduce re-offending appear to have become less ambitious.[169] Recent reconviction figures suggest that Government efforts show some success in reducing the frequency of re-offending. Thirty-nine per cent. of offenders re-offend within a year, representing a fall of 12 per cent. since 2000; the rate of re-offending increased by 2.3 per cent. in 2007, the last year for which figures are available, but it is not yet clear whether this reversal represents a trend. Persistent offending remains a significant problem: a quarter of sentences are given to offenders with 15 or more previous convictions and nearly half of adults sentenced to custody have already been in prison 3 times.[170]

104. We welcome indications that reconviction rates following time in prison and on probation have fallen by a considerable margin, although we are concerned at early signs that this trend may be reversing, particularly as this coincides with budgetary constraints for prisons and probation. We are worried that, if the prison system further expands and the increases in funding tail off, these resources will be spread too thinly to continue to reduce re-offending.

The impact of sentencing on crime rates

105. There is significant controversy over what measures are effective in reducing offending, and a contributory factor is the lack of available evidence. The extent to which criminal justice activity has an impact on crime rates has been the subject of extensive academic debate. The Magistrates' Association argued that without better data on re-offending rates, and on the effects of sentences, the reliability of current policy was questionable.[171]

106. The problems of interpretation and establishing causal links can be seen when the US and European situations are compared. The marked fall in the crime rate in the US, which has been attributed by some to the increased used of imprisonment, has been mirrored in Europe, where the opposite policy has tended to be pursued. The graphs below show the relationships between crime rates and use of imprisonment in Finland and England and Wales. Despite the higher rates of imprisonment in England and Wales relative to other EU countries, crime rates have not dropped as steeply here as they have in the rest of Europe.[172]

107. In the USA, the Sentencing Commission in Portland, Oregon identified a point of diminishing return when increased sentence lengths and numbers in custody are correlated against re-offending outcomes.[173] David Faulkner and evidence from the International Centre for Prison Studies highlighted the limited effect of sentencing itself on crime in the UK.[174] The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies has even questioned the extent to which reductions in re-offending can be attributed to criminal justice policy at all:

    The contribution of criminal justice agencies to the fluctuating levels and patterns of crime […] are affected by a range of factors—employment, economic growth, relative levels of income inequality, demographic trends and technological developments, for example—making it difficult to account for the particular contribution made by the various criminal justice agencies. Indeed many criminologists argue that the impact of the criminal justice system on overall crime levels is small, even negligible or insignificant.[175]

108. It is at least as likely that other policies have contributed to the reduction in crime rates. In 2003, Patrick (now Lord) Carter estimated that the increased use of prison reduced crime by approximately 5%, compared to an overall reduction in crime of 30% since 1997. He also found that rehabilitation programmes can reduce reconviction rates by between 5-10%. In his 2007 review of prisons he directly attributed reductions in re-offending to increased investment in offender interventions both in prison and in the community[176] and reiterated the need to focus resources on effective practice in the reduction of re-offending.[177] However, these observations were not manifested in his recommendations which focused on the expansion of the use of imprisonment without any linkage to evidence that prison building represents the most effective use of resources compared to investment in other forms of provision which may reduce crime.[178]

109. It is not currently possible to quantify the performance of the criminal justice system in reducing re-offending against the other purposes of sentencing, although Dr Chitty told us that the feasibility of such measures was being explored.[179] Despite this lack of evidence, the Secretary of State asserted his belief that there must be a causal relationship between the increased use of imprisonment and the lower crime rate:

    There is some linkage between the fact that crime, as measured by the British Crime Survey, has dropped a third in the last 11 years and the prison population has gone up by a third, and it is not a direct linkage, but I am not in any doubt that it is there and the fact that prison terms have got longer is also a factor.[180]

110. Much of the money being spent on prisons and probation appears to be spent with either little effect, or little known effect, on crime rates. The Government needs to do more to commission, facilitate and encourage research on the contributory factors to the reduction in re-offending and crime rates; not least by ensuring that the right data are collected and disseminated to fuel creative projects and worthwhile debate. For example, the reasons for the reduction in re-offending in recent years—and, equally, the small rise recorded for 2007—are not at all clear. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice undertake work to identify the key factors influencing changes in the rate of re-offending and crime as a priority.


111. There was consensus amongst many of our witnesses that public expenditure on criminal justice is not generally cost-effective. Cost-effectiveness is not simply about using resources efficiently, or doing things more cheaply, it also implies that resources are being directed to the best possible effect. Witnesses argued that there are some groups of prisoners for whom prison is not cost-beneficial and that community sentences are almost always more cost-effective than custody unless imprisonment is required to protect the public from serious harm.[181] For example, the Magistrates' Association agreed that custodial sentences are not cost-effective if you look at them in terms of rehabilitation.[182] Jeremy Beecham, vice-Chair of the Local Government Association, agreed prison is "not a satisfactory way of dealing with the problem and is also hideously expensive."[183] The Chair and former Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Board agreed that long-term costs of not dealing with young offenders effectively are huge.[184]

112. Research by Matrix Knowledge Group, using the available evidence on the economic case for and against prison, has drawn similar conclusions.[185] For example, the Group has calculated that some community-based interventions, including community service and residential drug treatment, can provide better value-for-money, in terms of the costs of reducing re-offending, than basic prison sentences i.e. without any additional interventions designed to reduce re-offending, for example, drug treatment or an offending behaviour programme. There are also cost-benefits in sentencing low-level, non-violent offenders to community based alternatives to prison. On the other hand, if a custodial sentence is necessary to protect the public, it is generally more cost-effective to enhance the sentence with drug treatment, some behavioural change programmes and educational or vocational training.

113. Witnesses emphasised the wider costs of a policy which concentrates the vast majority of allocated resources around imprisonment. It was argued that these costs were being ignored and we received compelling evidence of the price that society was paying as a result. Dr Barbara Barrett, Centre for the Economics of Mental Health, Kings College London outlined the implications of effectively disregarding the possible benefits of using criminal justice resources in other policy areas to prevent burdens falling on the criminal justice system in the first place.[186] Judge Michael Marcus, Circuit Court, Multnomah County, Oregon USA, argued that neither the US nor the UK were considering responsible allocations of prison and programme resources according to real opportunities for reducing criminal behaviour.[187]

114. Andrew Bridges, Chief Inspector of Probation, described the choices that must be made in determining the appropriate balance of resources within the criminal justice system, pointing out the need to assess the quantity of benefit gained, and at what cost. He explained, for example, there are short-term benefits of prison in terms of an incapacitation effect, which eliminates risk to the public in a way that cannot be achieved when managing offenders in the community. On the other hand, the proportion of serious further offences committed by current offenders was "tiny in percentage terms" therefore to achieve the preventative purpose of prison by incapacitation a very large number of people have to be locked up in order to prevent a very small number of very serious offences. He therefore argued that "currently the prison system is achieving a small preventive effect, yes, but at very high financial and human cost to the country. The "rate of return" on "investing in incapacitation is arguably a very poor one—although that is ultimately a value judgement for the taxpayer to make."[188] In the case of persistent offenders in particular the incapacitation effect is short-lived as they tend to receive short prison sentences and return to committing crime on release. This makes the case not for greater use of imprisonment as a general policy approach, but for the type of concentrated and swift intervention with prolific offenders, which we saw on our visit to the USA, in locations where the cycle of continued imprisonment, release and pursuit has been rejected as unsustainable.

115. Witnesses argued that wider cost-based and social impact assessments of criminal justice policy should be undertaken in order to generate longer-term savings. For instance, Professor Cynthia McDougall, University of York, asserted the need to begin to look at crime as a problem to be managed in a cost-beneficial way.[189] She proposed a "more economic model that is managing offenders appropriately, would be based on research evidence so the things that work are the things that we would put money into."[190] Professor McGuire agreed that cost-effectiveness should be a driver for criminal justice policy.[191] LGA and Clinks added that the wider social benefit of such policies should be considered.[192]

116. Nacro argued that, when calculating the true cost of imprisonment, it must be recognised that custody causes social damage which may undermine rehabilitation, for example: loss of homes, loss of jobs (and future prospects) and the breakdown of family relationships. Furthermore, Nacro pointed out that the current over-crowding of prisons has resulted in a custodial estate which is less able to provide constructive and rehabilitative regimes.[193]

117. Eilís Lawlor of the New Economics Foundation (NEF), was critical of the short-term perspective taken to planning criminal justice policy. She argued that "[…] we get very focused on what the criminal justice system costs and we do not think about what effects it has, what outcomes it has and what the costs and benefits of those outcomes are."[194] She warned that there were dangers of passing on the legacy of quick-fix solutions to future generations, because those costs would only escalate in the future. The former Chief Probation Officer for London, David Scott told us: "cost-effectiveness, value and outcome are all crucial and often they are missing from the discussion about what should be done. Too often the rhetoric is just punishment. It seems to me that punishment may be part of it but surely effective outcome, value and benefit are equally if not more important."[195] The Prison Reform Trust agreed that the return on spending on criminal justice should become an explicit consideration. But NEF also highlighted the difficulty of assessing the costs and benefits of the criminal justice system.[196] Dr Chloë Chitty, Ministry of Justice research analyst, acknowledged that the Ministry of Justice has not paid sufficient attention to the relative cost-effectiveness of sentences and interventions until recently.[197]

118. Paul Kiff, Director of the Cracking Crime Scientific Research Group, cautioned that care must be taken regarding the potential for false assessment of the costs and benefits of different sentencing responses.[198] When comparing effectiveness in terms of reconviction, the starting point for community sentences is the start of the sentence but for custody it is the end. On the other hand, he argued that in making such comparisons the annual costs of prison and community sentences are not "tariff-equivalent" i.e. a 3 month prison sentence may better equate to an 18 month community sentence. It is important that there was fair comparison between the two types of sentence. He suggested, therefore, that cost savings may well be higher, even if the costs of crimes committed during the course of a community sentence and the equivalent length of such a sentence are included. He agreed that the costs of disruption to families and employment arising from custodial sentences should be included in a fair comparison of costs.

119. Nacro suggested to us that the high cost of a prison place should imply a degree of success in reducing offending but highlighted that the cost of re-offending by ex-prisoners has been estimated at £11bn per year.[199] This figure, calculated by the Social Exclusion Unit in its 2002 report Reducing Re-offending by ex-prisoners, included the costs incurred in anticipation of crime (for example insurance), costs as a consequence of crime (for example health services, repairing damage) and the costs of the criminal justice system itself. [200]

120. The Unit's report set out a number of reasons why this figure was likely to underestimate the true costs of re-offending. First, recorded crime accounts for between only a quarter and a tenth of total crime, and ex-prisoners are likely to be prolific offenders. They may, therefore, be responsible for a large proportion of unrecorded crime and its costs as well. Second, there are high financial costs to: the police and the criminal justice system more widely; the victims of the crimes; other public agencies who also have to pick up the pieces; the national economy and employers through loss of income; the communities in which they live; and, of course, prisoners themselves and their families. The social exclusion of prisoners and their families imposes a range of additional costs to society, including the cost of homelessness, drug and alcohol treatment, family poverty, taking children into care, and the benefit and lost tax costs of unemployment.

121. Recent research, much of which has been conducted by the Government and its agencies, supports the Unit's conclusion that the potential dividends of reform are high (see box below). These examples illustrate the complexity of unpicking the costs and benefits of various interventions to deal with offending behaviour and of identifying a place to start to save resources to reinvest: potential benefits are not felt in the same place in the system as the costs.

122. The Social Exclusion Unit concluded that directing resources towards the pathways related to offending behaviour would have far-reaching benefits:

    "Although the Prison Service and Probation Service have improved their focus on reducing re-offending, the current balance of resources still does not enable them to deliver beneficial programmes such as education, drug and mental health treatment, offending behaviour, and reparation programmes and many others, to anything like the number who need them […] The benefits of reform would not only be felt by the criminal justice system. There are likely to be multiple returns to services dealing with employment, housing, benefits, families, health and education."[201]

123. The evidence we have heard suggests that, despite the investment and progress detailed in annex 1, a similar picture remains today, particularly in the community. For this reason Nacro advocated revisiting the conclusions of the Social Exclusion Unit report.[202] The International Centre for Prison Studies agreed that there is the potential to look further at the correlation between social deprivation and imprisonment.[203] The Prison Reform Trust believed that Government must address the causes of the over-crowded prison system by addressing social exclusion factors.[204] In an article in Safer Society Julian Corner, co-author of the report, made the following observation of Government activity to implement the recommendations:

    If the SEU report taught us anything, it was that many prisoners are drawn from the most disadvantaged and excluded parts of society, and inclusion policies and joined-up delivery are needed to keep them from re-offending. In 2002, this analysis was apparently a consensus view across the Government. The premise was that seven government departments would go on to forge a united front against re-offending, and prison would only be used as a last resort. What actually happened was that they cherry-picked the most politically acceptable and convenient actions, and rubbished the rest—namely, the social inclusion measures.[205]

124. Rt Hon David Hanson MP, then Prisons Minister, agreed that more could be done to address this, stating that "in some parts of the country there are still high levels of social exclusion and those social problems which are the festerers of lower level and subsequently higher level crime."[206] There remain many gaps, for example, in the national performance framework specifically related to addressing the social exclusion of offenders. The Socially Excluded Adults PSA only applies to offenders who are subject to probation supervision and therefore continues to exclude one of the most socially deprived groups: the most persistent offenders who tend to be sentenced to short-custodial sentences. In addition, the PSA focuses on only two of the factors which may promote desistance from crime i.e. accommodation and employment. Chart 3 illustrates the level of unmet need among offenders serving sentences longer than 12 months.

125. The potential cost savings of promoting the desistance of young offenders from crime are equally significant. The Audit Commission has suggested that investing in a greater multi-agency emphasis on improving outcomes for young offenders could result in cost savings. Youth Justice 2004 found that young people are not getting the help they need from schools, health services and other mainstream services and recommended that these services should take more responsibility for preventing offending by young people.[207] The report tracks the life of a young person who has received a custodial sentence and details a series of missed opportunities for investment in supportive interventions which would have saved money further down the line. The costs of these support services were estimated at £42,000, compared with actual costs of £184,000 for those he did receive including an intensive community programme and a sentence to a secure training centre. This does not include the wider costs to the community.

126. The Audit Commission calculated that if similar savings were made for just 1 in 10 of the offenders sentenced to custody each year, more than £100 million could be saved. Research for young people's charity Rainer found that investing in needs-based resettlement support and service provision for young people aged 15-17 who are leaving custody could save over £80m per year.[208] Mr Scott also spoke of the value of investing in resettlement: "if we invest in meeting people at the prison gate and ensuring that we see them quickly and back their compliance with orders we can save further downstream in court appearances, all the expense of recall and so on."[209] Frances Done, Chair of the Youth Justice Board, agreed that it was important to focus on resettlement for young offenders.[210]

127. Resources are always going to be limited so investing in one area involves a sacrifice in not investing in another; a choice that may have wider costs for society. We believe society is paying a high price for the unnecessary use of imprisonment for some people. Determining the most appropriate allocation of resources should not be limited to the consideration of a balance between prisons and probation. There is a very strong financial case for investing substantial resources in more preventative work with: former offenders; those with drug and alcohol problems; people with mental ill-health; and young people on the outskirts of the criminal justice system or who have been in custody.

128. The severe social exclusion of former offenders was plainly illustrated in the evidence amassed by the Social Exclusion Unit for its report on reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners, but the Government's attempts to deal with it seem half-hearted. The social exclusion of offenders is acknowledged by Ministers, but an apologetic tone seems to accompany any mention of support to offenders. By talking up the punitive elements of the criminal justice system instead, the Government exacerbates the fear of crime; apparent embarrassment at being seen to work with offenders will only prolong their exclusion and hinder their rehabilitation. We recommend that the Government as a whole makes reducing the social exclusion of former offenders a central part of its social policies.

129. We conclude that programmes aimed at rehabilitation—such as tackling offender behaviour, on the one hand, and improving skills and self-confidence, on the other—are worth running in prison, while offenders are inside and in sight. Nonetheless, a more effective investment would be in a substantial programme of 'prehabilitation', aimed at potential offenders and targeted on problem communities, with the objective of heading off the drift into crime and custody before it happens.

84   Home Office, Reducing Crime, Changing Lives, 2004; Patrick Carter, Managing Offenders, Reducing Crime, December 2003 Back

85   Patrick Carter, Managing Offenders, Reducing Crime, December 2003, p 39 Back

86   Ministry of Justice, NOMS Strategic and Business Plans 2009-10 to 2010-11, 2009, p 35 Back

87   Calculated by applying HM Treasury GDP deflator (as at 28 April 2009) to cash expenditure figures from, Ministry of Justice Departmental Report 2007-08, Cm 7397 Back

88   HM Treasury, Budget 2009 Back

89   Oral evidence taken before the Justice Committee on 21 October 2008, HC (2007-08) 1121-i, Q 9  Back

90   10,000 jobs to go as crunch hits public sector, The Times, 15 October 2008 Back

91   Oral evidence taken before the Justice Committee on 21 October 2008, HC (2007-08) 1121-i, Q 9  Back

92   Q 568 Back

93   National Offender Management Service, Annual report and accounts 08/09, July 2009 Back

94   Oral evidence taken before the Justice Committee on 21 October 2008, HC (2007-08) 1121-i, Q 9, The Ministry of Justice has since stated that all new prisons will be run privately for the foreseeable future and hence not staffed by public sector prison officers. Back

95   See Role of the Prison Officer, Twelfth Report from the Justice Committee, Session 2008-09, HC 361 Back

96   Ev 240 Back

97   Ev 238ff Back

98   Ev 162 Back

99   Ev 151 Back

100   Q 114 Back

101   Ibid. Back

102   NOMS, National Commissioning and Partnerships Framework 2008/09, February 2008, p 5 Back

103   HL Deb, 5 December 2007, col 1714-5 [Lords Chamber] Back

104   Her Majesty's Courts Service, Business Plan 2009-10, March 2009 Back

105   Ibid. Back

106   Ministry of Justice press release, Changes to court services in England, 13 October 2009 Back

107   Ev 236 [Napo]; Ev 300 [Dr Pearce]; and Q 81 [Dr Chitty]  Back

108   From April 2008, all Friday afternoon activities, including education, offending behaviour programmes and work, were cancelled in public sector prisons. Back

109   Ev 255 Back

110   Cash strapped jails 'ready to blow' governor warns,, 5 October 2009 Back

111   Q 195 Back

112   Q 428 Back

113   Ev 179 Back

114   National Offender Management Service, Offender Management Caseload Statistics 2007, 2009 Back

115   Ev 238 Back

116   According to Offender Management Caseload Statistics 2007 the probation budget has grown by 21% in real terms since 2001, and caseloads have risen by the same proportion. The Government claim that recent budget reductions will not affect frontline delivery.  Back

117   National Offender Management Service, Offender Management Caseload Statistics 2007, 2009 Back

118   Calculated by applying HM Treasury GDP deflator (as at 28 April 2009) to cash expenditure figures from Ministry of Justice Departmental Report 2007-08, Cm 7397 Back

119   Ev 237 Back

120   Q 453 Back

121   Q 453 [Ms Crook]; Ev 223 [Nacro] Back

122   Ev 183 Back

123   Ev 151, 286 [David Faulkner; Revolving Doors Agency] Back

124   In making a community order, magistrates and judges can chose from 12 requirements to tailor the sentence to the offender based on the seriousness of their offence and the factors which may have contributed to it. Back

125   National Audit Office, The National Probation Service: The supervision of community orders in England and Wales, January 2008 Back

126   Where mental health requirements have been used this has tended to be for offenders who were already in receipt of treatment before the order began. Back

127   National Audit Office, The National Probation Service: The supervision of community orders in England and Wales, January 2008  Back

128   Ibid [NAO]; Ev 295, Q 333 [Ms Greatley, Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health] Back

129   Ev 236 Back

130   National Audit Office, The National Probation Service: The supervision of community orders in England and Wales, January 2008 Back

131   Ev 209 Back

132   The Government has referred to this money as the solution to the lack of community provision for women offenders, accommodation, alcohol treatment requirements, drug rehabilitation requirements, unpaid work intensive community orders and to finance work with sentencers. See, Ev 212ff for description of how this has been allocated. Back

133   Ev 208 Back

134   Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Probation Resources, Staffing and Workload 2001-2008, April 2008 Back

135   Now known as the Probation Association Back

136   Ev 262. This was based on review of 176 probation boards. Back

137   Ev 231 Back

138   David Scott, Speech to All-Party Parliamentary Group on Penal Affairs, 20 January 2009.  Back

139   Q 476 Back

140   Q 425 Back

141   Ev 183 Back

142   Q 212 Back

143   Q 188 Back

144   Q 471 Back

145   Q 35 Back

146   National Offender Management Service, Strategic and Business Plans 2009-10 to 2010-11, February 2008, p 31 Back

147   Oral Evidence to the Justice Committee,17 December 2007 Back

148   Ev 230ff Back

149   Nearly 50% current prisons opened prior to the 19th century. The National Audit Office criticised the way in which NOMS planned and prioritised the maintenance of prison assets over their economic life (National Audit Office 2009). Back

150   HC Deb, 25 April 2008, col 53W [Commons written answer] Back

151   Hansard, 16 December 2008, col 575W Back

152   Ev 231 Back

153   HM Treasury, Budget Report 2009, 22 April 2009, p 125 Back

154   Q 484 Back

155   Q 568 Back

156   National Offender Management Service, National Commissioning and Partnerships Framework 2008/09, February 2008 Back

157   Ibid, p16  Back

158   Ibid, p14  Back

159   National Offender Management Service, Strategic and Business Plans 2009-10 to 2010-11, February 2008, p 28 Back

160   Q 264, 19 May 2009 Back

161   According to Professor Pfeiffer it is the probability of an offender getting caught rather than the consequences if they do get caught that acts as a deterrence, Qq 602, 611. Back

162   Ev 241 Back

163   Q 443 Back

164   Q 378 Back

165   Oral evidence taken before the Justice Committee on 13 October 2009, HC (2008-09) 1016-i,
Qq 16-17 

166   National Audit Office, HM Prison Service: Reducing prisoner re-offending, 2002; National Audit Office, The National Probation Service: the supervision of community orders in England & Wales, 31 Jan 2008, p.15 Back

167   A. Smith et al, Crime Statistics: an independent review, November 2006; Statistics Commission, Review of crime statistics, September 2006 Back

168   i.e. how many re-offences are committed per group of re-offenders from a simple measure of the proportion re-offending. Back

169   In 2002, the Home Office set a target to reduce the absolute rate of re-offending by 5% by April 2004 and again by 5% by April 2006 i.e. 10% over 4 years. However the target decreased to 10% over the period from 2005 to 2011. Back

170   Ministry of Justice, Sentencing Statistics 2007 England and Wales, Ministry of Justice Statistics bulletin, June 2009 Back

171   Ev 183 Back

172   Gallup Europe for the UN crime prevention agency, EU Crime and Safety Survey, funded by the European Commission, February 2007 Back

173   Oregon Prison Economics presentation, May 2008. If the incarceration rate increases by 10% the violent crime rate is predicted to decrease by 3.4% and the overall crime rate is expected to decrease by 2.6%.  Back

174   Ev 152 [David Faulkner];166 [ICPS].  Back

175   Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Ten years of criminal justice under Labour: an independent audit, January 2007, p 23 Back

176   Lord Carter, Securing the future: proposals for the efficient and sustainable use of custody in England and Wales, December 2007, p 5 Back

177   Ibid, p 28 Back

178   Except for calculating that Titans represented the most cost-effective means of expansion. Back

179   Q 75 Back

180   Q 35 Back

181   Q 144 [Professor McDougall]; Ev 152, [David Faulkner] Back

182   Ev 182 Back

183   Q 21 Back

184   Qq 189, 200 [Ms Done, Ms Roy] Back

185   Matrix Knowledge Group, The economic case for and against prison, November 2007; Matrix Knowledge Group, The economic case for and against prison: update, November 2008; Make Justice Work and Matrix Evidence, Are short term prison sentences an efficient and effective use of public resources?, June 2009. Back

186   Q 114 Back

187   Ev 185 Back

188   Ev 161 Back

189   Ev 148 Back

190   Q 131 Back

191   Q 107 Back

192   Ev 179 Back

193   Ibid. Ev 222 Back

194   Q 166 Back

195   Q 451 Back

196   Ev 245 Back

197   Q 80; See also Ev 207, Ministry of Justice analysts have recently done some research on this in the South West. Back

198   Ev 252ff Back

199   Ev 222 Back

200   Social Exclusion Unit, Reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners, 2002 Back

201   Social Exclusion Unit, Reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners, July 2002, p 10 Back

202   Ev 222ff Back

203   Ev 166 Back

204   Ev 258 Back

205   Julian Corner, Inaction Plan, Safer Society No 22, Nacro 2004. Back

206   Q 593 Back

207   Audit Commission, Youth Justice 2004: a review of the reformed youth justice system, 2004 Back

208   Ev 272 Back

209   Q 438 Back

210   Q 199 Back

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