The Impact of Sanctions
The Ministry of Justice has just (9 December 2021) published new research on the impact of its adjudication system. Examining the impact of sanctions on custodial misconduct following disciplinary adjudications effectively looks at whether the sanctions imposed have any impact on preventing further rule-breaking behaviour. The publication of the research is timely, coming just two days after the prisons white paper which raised the possibilities of big changes to the adjudication system by bringing forward secondary legislation to support swift sanctions which better support positive behavioural change through the introduction of ‘fast track adjudications’.
The adjudication system
The prison adjudication sustem is a formal process whereby breaches of prison rules result in a formal charge being laid, which is followed by a court-type hearing held in the prison which allows for inquiry into the charge, the presentation of evidence, the right to a defence and legal advice. If a person is found guilty of misconduct, they can be awarded a punishment (or punishments), which can include having days added to the time they spend in custody, cellular confinement, forfeiture of privileges, stoppages of earnings, or being cautioned. The number of adjudications is, frankly, enormous – this study is based on the 6,000 people in prison subject to a proven adjudication in just a 4 week period in summer 2017. It looked at their subsequent conduct (in terms of whether they faced further adjudications) for a ten month follow-up period.
Who gets in trouble in prison?
The researchers, Ben Fortescue, Flora Fitzalan Howard, Philip Howard, George Kelly and Marwa Elwan, profiled this cohort of people in prison and found that they were:
“both vulnerable and at raised risk of reoffending, with high and prevalent levels of criminogenic needs and responsivity factors (such as learning difficulties or challenges)”.
The cohort was mainly male, or white heritage and were mainly serving determinant sentences. The majority had a history of proven rule-breaking, and the majority went on to break further prison rules.
The chart below shows the relationship between rule-breaking and age with younger people in prison unsurprisingly more likely to come into contact with the adjudication system.
The research found that the likelihood of committing further misconduct appeared greater for people who were younger, at higher risk of violent or general reoffending after release, at higher risk of perpetrating violence in custody, had a learning difficulty, experienced mental health difficulties, had a higher rate of prior proven adjudications, and who were found guilty (at their index adjudication in this study) of wilful damage, disobedience or disrespect, or breaking rules categorised as ‘other’.
Interestingly, people whose sanction was suspended were less likely to get in trouble again than those who were given immediate punishments. Other findings were that people who were confined to their cells were more like to break rules in future and those who were given a caution were less so.
The researchers advise caution in drawing conclusions from a retrospective study of complex behaviour with no control or comparison group. Nonetheless, they raise some possible implications for the way that adjudications are administered:
- The importance of additional support and services to young adults, those with learning difficulties and/or mental ill health.
- The need to take a more rehabilitative approach to addressing misconduct.
- The importance of providing the opportunity to change behaviour.
- Where possible, to consider imposing less punitive punishments.
We shall see to what, if any, extent the implementation of the prisons plan takes these recommendations into consideration.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.