Reoffending rates – why are they so high?

By Sam Woolfe & Tristan Kitchin

The government recently announced its plans to implement new restrictions on the perks prisoners receive. Televisions in cells; access to the gym; the ability to wear ones own clothing; these rights, enjoyed by many prisoners throughout the country, will soon become the prerogatives of the well behaved.

The new incentives scheme, which will be implemented in prisons across England and Wales over the next six months, will require prisoners to earn privileges. It has been emphasised these benefits will not be granted solely on the grounds of good behaviour however; prisoners will be required to partake in work and education programmes, working towards rehabilitation.


The shake-up is a move designed to convince the public that inmates’ lives are not easy and comfortable.  The prison system was heavily critcised when it became apparent many prisoners had access to satellite television, a benefit which will now be completely banned, along with 18-rated films. When many of us cannot afford luxuries such as Sky TV, then should not be granted to prisoners at our expense, say the Government.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling echoed this point on Tuesday, stating: “It is not right that some prisoners appear to be spending hours languishing in their cells and watching daytime television, while the rest of the country goes out to work.”

It is hoped these plans will help precipitate a drop in violent conduct in prisons, but Grayling further adheres these plans will succeed in helping cut down reoffending rates; by offering further education and work programmes to inmates, it is hoped they will leave prison with better job prospects and will therefore not resort back to crime.

The UK has extremely high rates of reoffending  – in fact around half of all crime is committed by people who have already been through the criminal justice system. This suggests that the criminal justice system is not effective at preventing those with a criminal record from committing further crimes. Not only does this defeat one of the main functions of the criminal justice system – to prevent crime and deter would-be criminals – it also comes at a great cost to the taxpayer. The cost to the taxpayer of reoffending is estimated to be £9.5 to £13 billion per year. That is a huge sum of money and in our current economic climate, we simply cannot afford it.

Reoffending rates have been too high for too long, despite major government spending on the issue in the past decade. This government spending has been a complete waste of resources. There has been little change in reoffending rates and almost half of those released from prison go on to commit another crime in the following year. The prison system is clearly not putting people off from reoffending again. But we desperately need to prevent people from reoffending, to reduce the number of victims in society and to reduce the costs to the taxpayer. To achieve this, we need a criminal justice system that punishes people in a proper and effective manner, while supporting them so that they do not commit a crime again.

The government can do this by offering a ‘payment by results’ approach. The idea behind this approach is that providers of rehabilitation will be rewarded if they offer truly effective rehabilitation. This will give them an incentive to properly rehabilitate offenders, since it is in their interest to do so. It is important to remember, however, that there is not one simple solution to the UK’s high rates of reoffending. A number of approaches need to be combined to work towards this common goal. Another approach would be to offer more meaningful and productive work for prisoners, so that they can develop skills and a sense of community. This will help to integrate them into society once they are released.

Since many offenders are in prison for drug charges, drug abuse should be prevented inside prisons, and drugs counselling should be provided after release. This will serve to prevent further drug abuse outside of prison, a lifestyle which can lead to crimes such as theft. In addition, once offenders are released that should not be the end of the rehabilitation process. Support should be there for them so that they can resettle in their communities, become more employable and find work as soon as possible.


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