Prison payment-by-results schemes see reoffending cut

Norwich Prison (file pic) The government wants to roll out the changes nationwide

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Payment-by-result schemes supervising people released from prison have seen a slight drop in reoffending, initial Ministry of Justice figures show.

Prisoners released from Peterborough and Doncaster Prisons are being helped by charities and support organisations to re-settle.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the interim figures were "encouraging".

But the shadow prisons minister said the government should not rush into rolling the schemes out nationally.

'Madness'

Both pilots are measuring reconviction rates in the 12 months following release from prison. The final results will not be available until 2014 but figures on how many people have been reconvicted in the six months after being released have been published part-way through the two pilot schemes.

Between September 2008 and March 2010 Peterborough had a reconviction rate of 41.6%, which was considerably higher than the national average of 37.3%, according to the MoJ figures.

Since the new scheme began at the prison in September 2010 the reconviction rate has fallen to 39.2% in the period up to March 2012.

Mr Grayling said the Peterborough pilot "is the sort of approach I want to see rolled out to all offenders leaving prison".

Any drop is reoffending is obviously good news for the community affected, the reformed criminal, and the public purse.

But despite the fact that these figures are positive, the data does not yet tell us whether the Peterborough pilot will hit its target.

The key test is what will happen to former prisoners over a year - and that means that positive signs in the first six months could evaporate if someone later slides back into crime.

Anyone who has worked with offenders will tell you stories of offenders leaving jail desperate to go straight - and they perhaps succeed for a while.

But then a few months later things go wrong and, before you know it, they're up before the magistrates again.

Breaking that cycle is extremely tough work - that is the challenge the Peterborough pilot must meet.

At Doncaster Prison while the overall trend for reoffending is down over time, results show its pilot has proved to be less successful since it was launched in October 2011.

The re-conviction rate up to March 2012 was 41.1% - lower than the 41.6% rate between October 2009 and March 2010 and the rate of 46% in the period October 2008 to March 2009.

But this was higher than the 39.8% recorded in the period October 2010 to March 2011.

Mr Grayling has promised a "rehabilitation revolution" to stop former prisoners committing crimes, which the National Audit Office estimates costs up to £13bn per year.

He said: "It is madness that we release prisoners serving short sentences without any support in the community.

"These figures show a sizeable fall in reconvictions. They clearly demonstrate that with targeted support and help aimed at the right people at the right time we can divert more offenders from a return to crime."

Shadow prisons minister Jenny Chapman cautioned against taking too much from the early results.

"It is mildly encouraging, some of the numbers show I think that the pilots are still at an early stage and that providers are still experimenting with what works best.

"I think we need to allow the pilots to run their course."

"We need to be very very cautious about rolling stuff out around the country before we have had a chance to make the right learning."

The Peterborough pilot provided offenders with help as they prepared for release from jail and then access to services they needed out of prison, including housing, employment and financial services.

Ministers are planning to roll this out to all prisoners serving prison terms of less than 12 months under the Offender Rehabilitation Bill currently going through parliament.

Andrew Neilson, from the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the pilots were being run differently from how the national payment-by-results scheme will work, with the Peterborough project in part secured through philanthropic investment.

"The Peterborough project also works with short sentenced prisoners who engage voluntarily with services on release. That voluntary aspect is considered crucial to the project's success in areas such as mentoring," he said.

"By contrast, the government is proposing to privatise probation to reduce costs and short sentenced prisoners will be compelled to receive support on release.

"Talk of payment for results may yet be a smokescreen for cheap and poor quality services that set people up to fail."

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