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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 January 2007, 13:49 GMT
Why more inmates are reoffenders
Chelmsford Prison
More than half of all crimes are committed by ex-offenders
Latest figures show the number of offenders who have previously served prison sentences has increased over the last 15 years, from 51% in 1992 to 67%.

So why has the reoffending rate increased so dramatically and what is being done to reduce the numbers who are unable to keep on the straight and narrow?

THE CRIME REDUCTION CHARITY

Nacro, the crime reduction charity, says overcrowded and unfit prisons are to blame for the increase in reoffending.

Paul Cavadino, Chief Executive of Nacro, said: "It is no surprise that reconviction rates have risen as prison overcrowding has become more extreme.

"The more jails are overstretched, the more prisoners have to spend time languishing in their cells rather than in education and rehabilitation programmes which could reduce reoffending.

WHO IS IN PRISON?
70% of prisoners have two or more mental health problems
25% are from ethnic minorities, compared with 9% of the general population
21% of shoplifters are imprisoned, compared with 5% in 2000
11% have broken community supervision orders
10% are serving sentences of less than 12 months
Source: Nacro

"By imprisoning more and more offenders, judges and magistrates have done nothing to protect the public. In fact they have done the opposite. They have hampered prisons' ability to rehabilitate offenders and thereby put the public more at risk."

The charity wants courts to impose fewer sentences of less than 12 months because, they argue, it is not enough time to rehabilitate people but long enough for prisoners to lose their homes and jobs - which makes them more likely to reoffend.

Nacro also wants the courts to imprison fewer shoplifters, women, young people, people who have breached community supervision orders and people from ethnic minorities - who make up a disproportionate number of prisoners.

THE HOME OFFICE

The day after he became home secretary in May of last year, John Reid declared: "We have to make reducing the number of re-offenders the central focus of our policy and practice."

And even before he took over at the Home Office, the government had pledged to reduce reoffending rates by 5% by 2008 and by 10% by 2010.

TACKLING REOFFENDING
Spending on probation is up 39% since 2001
300 million a year is spent on rehabilitative regimes in prisons
More than 350 specialist mental health professionals work with prisoners
Drug detoxification in every local prison
10% of adults who gain basic skills education are prisoners

To help achieve these targets, Mr Reid has promised to increase the number of prison places to ease overcrowding.

He has also agreed on the need to assess individual prisoners to minimise their risk of re-offending, which may include health and education.

"There should never be a situation where those leaving prison might turn to crime simply to feed and house themselves in those first difficult few weeks of release," Mr Reid said in a speech last May.

THE VICTIMS

Paul Fawcett of Victim Support said an increase in the reoffending rate was very disheartening to victims of crime.

"Individual responses of victims can range from vengeful and a desire to lock the offender away to forgiveness.

But after 30 years of helping victims, we know that they are united by a desire that the crime had not happened and a desire to stop other people going through a similar experience.

"That can involve giving evidence in court. To go through that difficult experience only for the person to come out and do it again will be very disappointing to the people we represent."

THE ACADEMIC

Rob Allen, director of the International Centre for Prison Studies at King's College, London, said the increase was caused by a combination of factors including prison overcrowding, a lack of education and training in prison and limited support on release from prison.

"During recent times, overcrowding in prisons has meant that many prisoners have had less access to opportunities such as training and education.

"They're also more likely to be moved further from home or moved between prisons, loosening contacts with family and community.

"Having somewhere reasonable to live, legitimate employment and support from family and friends are among the factors that help ex-prisoners go straight.

"One of the weaknesses of the system is that we don't provide enough support to help them resettle into the community."

Mr Allen suggested that a hardening of attitudes towards ex-prisoners may make it more difficult for them to find work and accommodation.

He added that it was now more likely that prisoners would have some kind of drug addiction, which without treatment, would propel them back to a life of crime on their release into the community.




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