Justice Secretary David Gauke has called for an “evidence-led” approach towards tackling re-offending in order to crack down on crime and reduce the number of victims. The intervention comes as new research reveals that repeat offenders cost society more than £18 billion per annum, with re-offending now accounting for over three-quarters of all crime that results in a caution or sentence.
Speaking to prominent criminal justice stakeholders, charities and front line professionals, the Justice Secretary argued that the tide will only be turned by following an evidence-based approach and tackling the root causes of re-offending.
Gauke referenced statistics which show that, if all current custodial sentences of less than six months were replaced with community alternatives, there would be around 32,000 fewer offences per year – drastically reducing the number of people becoming victims of crime.
Other findings in a number of research documents just published include the following:
*64% of those in prison for six months or less have a drug misuse problem compared with just over a third serving a community order
*72% lack the skills and motivation to obtain or hold down a job as opposed to 37% serving a community order
*60% don’t have a stable or suitable place to live compared with 31% on a community order
*The total social and economic cost of re-offending in England and Wales is now estimated at more than £18.1 billion per annum
*More than half of those costs – some £9.8 billion, in fact – are related to theft offences which are often driven by underlying problems such as substance misuse
Need to be fearless
Speaking at an event hosted by the Social Market Foundation, Gauke said: “There is one stark fact facing us: three-quarters of all crime that results in a caution or sentence happens because of re-offending. We must be fearless in dealing with this. While long prison sentences will always be right for those who commit the most serious crimes, particularly of a violent or sexual nature, the fact is that the vast majority of all offenders will at some point be released. I believe the public therefore expects the justice system to focus on rehabilitation to reduce the risk of subsequent offending and the likelihood of them becoming a victim of crime.”
In February, the Justice Secretary set out his vision for a “smart, not soft” justice system to reduce re-offending, protect the public and ensure serious criminals receive the punishment they deserve. He spoke of the need to look beyond prison, move away from the ‘revolving door’ of short custodial sentences and replace them with robust alternatives in the community that better target the root causes of offending.
Gauke has now pointed to new research which shows that those who serve short prison sentences often have very complex needs, which are better addressed through a community sentence. He stated: “Those who are sentenced to six months or less spend, on average, just six weeks in prison. This just isn’t enough time for any meaningful rehabilitation to take place to successfully tackle these problems. Ultimately, that short spell in prison doesn’t protect the public, doesn’t serve as much of a deterrent and exacerbates those already deep-rooted difficulties the individual faces. This latest research has further reinforced my view that moving away from prison sentences of up to six months will deliver real and positive change, helping the offenders to turn their lives around and enhancing the safety of the public.”
Improving prisons, boosting rehabilitation
In addition, Gauke argued that consideration must be given to other offences which raise issues of public protection and where a short prison sentence should continue to be an option – for example, knife crime.
To underpin these reforms, Gauke has overseen the investment of hundreds of millions of pounds to improve prisons, boost rehabilitation and overhaul the probation system to better support offenders in turning their backs on crime. Gauke has also stressed the vital role new technology has to play in bolstering community orders, pointing to findings from a GPS tagging pilot which found that most offenders felt that wearing a tag would help them make positive changes in their lives.
Concluding his speech, Gauke observed: “I believe that the approach that I’ve set out – indeed the approach I have set out in the last 18 months – is one that’s most likely to be effective in reducing re-offending and, therefore, reducing crime. I’m aware it’s an approach that will not have universal support, but I’ve taken great encouragement from the widespread support for an evidence-led, rehabilitative and humane agenda. It’s my hope that in the years ahead – whomever has the privilege of being Justice Secretary – it’s an approach that will be pursued with persistence, determination and courage and that it will help deliver a safer and more civilised society.”