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The evidence on reducing reoffending

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What works?

One of the positive side-effects of the Transforming Rehabilitation project (launched in earnest yesterday) has been the debate it has provoked about what works in reducing reoffending.

The MoJ has invested considerable effort in trying to ensure that this debate is underpinned by at least some evidence.

Their first initiative was the launch of the Justice Data Lab which enables small voluntary sector providers to compare the reoffending (measured by reconvictions) of their clients with comparable groups of offenders.

Yesterday, the MoJ published a Summary of  evidence on Reducing Reoffending under the Transforming Rehabilitation banner.

The report is well worth a proper read and appears to have been assembled in a reasonably objective manner – with the exception of rather too much information on the Peterborough and Doncaster Prisons payment by results reoffending pilots which are at much too early a stage for any proper evaluation and a slightly over-positive view on the evidence on mentoring.

As a primer which provides a good overview of the current state of evidence on reducing reoffending, it merits its place on a first year criminology degree reading list.

The report has three key sections:

  1.  Information on reoffending, including factors linked to reoffending and those associated with desistance
  2.  A description of the features of effective working with offenders
  3.  Evidence on specific approaches to reducing reoffending

Information on reoffending and desistance

The report starts by setting out the current headline one year reoffending rates:

  • 58 per cent of prisoners released from under 12 months’ custody.
  • 35 per cent of prisoners released after 12 months or more in custody (excluding public protection and life sentences).
  • 34 per cent of those starting a court order

After acknowledging that offenders are not a homogenous group, the report lists a fairly typical and predicable list of the static and dynamic criminogenic risk factors associated with offending and reoffending.

So, it was a relief that the report also contained a more helpful and less well known list of the factors associated with desistance from offending.

The better probation trusts have increasingly started to focus more on a desistance-based approach to tackling reoffending, looking not just at an offender’s risk factors, but his/her assets too. The MoJ report lists nine key desistance factors:

  1. Getting older and maturing
  2. Family and relationships
  3. Sobriety
  4. Employment
  5. Hope and motivation
  6. Having something to give to others
  7. Having a place within a social group
  8. Not having a criminal identity
  9. Being believed in

Features of effective work

The features of effective work on reducing reoffending will be well known to probation staff.

The concepts of risk, need, responsivity, individually tailored responses, and the need to offer a variety of learning styles are all familiar.

The report identifies four key attributes for effective offender management:

  1. The role of skilled, trained practitioners
  2. Well-sequenced, holistic approaches
  3. Delivery of services and interventions in a joined-up, integrated manner
  4. Delivery of high quality services

 Evidence of specific approaches

The final section explores the evidence of different approaches to reducing reoffending, using a form of the Maryland Scale developed by Sherman (and familiar to all researchers) which gives different weight to academic studies depending on the robustness of their evaluation designs.

The MoJ categorised evidence for different approaches as “good“, “mixed/promising“, or “insufficient evidence“.

They applied this approach to 10 different approaches to tackling reoffending with the results shown in the table that I’ve constructed below:



As you can see, we don’t know as much about reducing reoffending as we’d like to.

This is reflected in the foreword by Jeremy Wright, the Minister for Prisons and Rehabilitation:

” In those cases where there is no clear evidence about effectiveness, that should not prevent us from considering new approaches. In the absence of decisive evidence, partners will want to have a sound theoretical rationale for their approaches, and will want to draw on the extensive insight and learning offered from a range of different research types, both qualitative and quantitative, to inform their thinking.”


I’d be very interested in the views of criminologists/researchers as to their assessment of the value of the MoJ’s summary of the evidence via the comments section below.

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2 Responses

  1. Unfortunately like most studies this is pretty useless. All academic studies have a bias built into them so the results are skewed from the start. No one in the Ministry of Justice actually bothers sitting down with an offender and talkign to them one on one about what caused them to offend in the first place and what would stop them reoffending. No Probation officer actually bothers to ask such basic questions either. Which is patently ridiculous. It’s the first thing anyone should be doing if you really want to find out why someone offends/reoffends. Because no one talks with the offender about this crucial and central aspect of offending any study’s results are simply worthless as is this latest piece of crap from the MoJ. People are individuals and not statistics. You can draw conclusions about people’s behaviour on just about any issue better through guessing than anything else. Like everything else the conclusions in this report are guesswork and the recommendations pretty worthless. Until people running the MoJ actually bother to sit down with the real people in question and start asking them the very basic questions of how why and what its all pretty pointless and not exactly going to reduce reoffending.

    1. Well said Cait there are so many “experts” out there who know nothing about rehabilitation. Or they know plenty but do nothing. How can you possibly help the “individual” if you don’t know the route causes of why they offend, which is why here at TN that is precisely what we do.

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