Assessing needs of each offender and preventative measures are essential to cut reoffending rates
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) published a new report, Compendium of Reoffending Statistics and Analysis, concerning prisoner reoffending rates, which has generated a lot of debate in the media.
The report showed that the longer the prison sentence, the less likely an offender is to commit a further crime. The research also showed that community orders and suspended sentences brought about lower reoffending rates than those sentenced to less than one year in jail.
The report generated a lot of debate from all political parties about whether the data proved that prison sentencing was the answer or not, or whether non-custodial sentences were more effective at cutting down reoffending rates.
For us at the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, it is not so much about who is right or wrong, but rather that the report disclosed the flaws in the current system of sentencing and also highlighted the need to investigate the real reasons behind reoffending further.
Research shows that 25% of the prison population in the UK have learning difficulties and 7% have learning disabilities. However, a recent study carried out by the Prison Reform Trust indicates that prisoners with a learning disability are not identified on entry to prison and as a result do not receive the extra support they need. They are also often excluded from rehabilitative programmes and can be discriminated against because of their cognitive disability. It is essential that whatever the nature of the sentence they are given, they receive the support that they need with communication, literacy and self-esteem building, and that they develop positive social relationships to prevent further crimes from being committed.
We also champion investment in to early-intervention, in order to help to reduce the number of offences committed in the first instance. In support of this, we are currently evaluating a five year project run by our friends at Mencap, titled Raising Your Game (RYG), which aims to deliver preventative programmes in the community for young people with learning disabilities, communication difficulties and those who do not achieve at school. The project has six pilot sites across the UK and its main aim is to prevent people with learning disabilities from receiving custodial sentences.
Overall, the MoJ data shows that a lot still needs to be done to improve the current system. However, the remedy is far more complex than just advocating that longer jail sentences or greater use of community orders. Assessing the needs of each offender on a case-by-case basis, and taking preventative measures to minimise offending rates in the first instance, will be an essential part of any genuine attempt to cut reoffending rates, and this will necessarily involve taking an evidence-based approach to supporting people with learning disabilities, both in prison and in broader society.