When the MoJ announced the launch of its Data Lab in April 2013, I gave it a hearty welcome, with the proviso that the proof of the pudding would be in the eating.
Its function was quite clear.
The Lab is open to any organisation working with offenders which wants to evidence how effective their work is at reducing reoffending.
To use the service, organisations simply provide details of the offenders who they have worked with and information about the services they have provided.
The Lab then supplies aggregate one-year proven re-offending rates for that group, and, most importantly, that of a matched control group of similar offenders.
Well, last week the MoJ published the results of the Lab’s first six months’ operation – and the results are disappointing.
The pudding is very small and somewhat undercooked.
The purpose of the Justice Data Lab was to make it possible for small voluntary organisations to find out if their work with offenders made a difference to reoffending rates.
It was launched as part of the Transforming Rehabilitation project as a way of government, commissioners and Prime providers having a way of comparing the impact of different providers delivering a range of interventions.
Despite the strong publicity surrounding the launch of the Data Lab, with voluntary sector providers encouraged strongly to believe that participation would stand them in good stead to win business in the TR probation reforms, there were only 52 submissions in the first six months operation.
Seven of these have been fully answered.
Seven could not be answered because organisations were unable to provide the minimum criteria – (basically name, date of birth, gender, sentence type and date of sentence if possible).
The rest are still being processed.
Even with the seven requests which were answered, the MoJ struggled to match offenders in most cases.
Offenders were matched in 799 out of 3335 cases – just under a quarter of cases.
To be fair to the Data Lab, they have set the minimum data requirements very low and several organisations were unable to provide the basic information on a large proportion of the caseload.
In other cases, it’s not possible to tell whether it was the voluntary sector organisation or the MoJ whose data were not properly recorded.
But the biggest disappointment is that so far the Data Lab has been able to tell us very little about what works in reducing reoffending:
- Being offered short-term, full-time employment by Blue Sky reduces reoffending by between 1 and 23 percentage points
- Brighton’s Preventing Offender Accommodation Loss scheme reduces reoffending by between 1 and 38 percentage points
- There is insufficient evidence to assess the impact on reoffending of entering a Koestler Award
- There is insufficient evidence to assess the impact on reoffending of completing the Sycamore Tree Project
- There is insufficient evidence to assess the impact on reoffending of the Family Man course run by Safe Ground
- The reoffending rate for prisoners released from HMP Armley who saw the Shelter housing advice service was higher than the control group – but the control group wasn’t matched for homelessness/accommodation issues.
- There is insufficient evidence to assess the impact on reoffending of the Swansea Community Chaplaincy project
Well, it’s early days and I still applaud the commitment to transparency about reoffending rates.
Nevertheless, the next set of statistics, presumably out in April 2014, will need to be rather more informative for the Data Lab to keep running pasts its initial one year pilot.
If you’ve applied to the Justice Data Lab, please share your experiences below.