Managing offenders on short custodial sentences
9 March 2010
Full report: Managing offenders on short custodial sentences
More could be done to rehabilitate prisoners serving short sentences and reduce their risk of re-offending, according to a National Audit Office report today. The National Offender Management Service (NOMS), responsible for managing such prisoners, has little information on the quality, cost or effectiveness of its rehabilitation activities.
More than 60,000 prisoners serve sentences of under 12 months each year at a cost to NOMS of around £300 million. These prisoners present a significant challenge to NOMS: they tend to have more previous convictions than other offenders, with an average of 16 previous convictions each and, as a group, they also have a high level of homelessness, joblessness and drug and alcohol problems. NOMS is successfully keeping the vast majority of short-sentenced prisoners safe and well – a notable achievement in a time of prison overcrowding – but is currently struggling to manage this group effectively, in part because most spend six weeks or less in prison.
Although short-sentenced prisoners are kept secure, safe and well, the provision of daytime activity for them is generally inadequate to meet HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ standards for a healthy prison. This is partly because of overcrowding and constraints of physical space, which mean that there are not enough activity spaces for all prisoners. Despite the cycle of re-offending and NOMS’ target to reduce this, the NAO found that one half of short-sentenced prisoners are not involved in work or courses and spend almost all day in their cells. Prisons offer a range of courses and other activities to reduce re-offending; but waiting lists are too long and, with the exception of drug services, prisons often do not match prisoners with appropriate assistance.
Only a small proportion of prison budgets is spent on activity intended to reduce re-offending by prisoners on short sentences, despite the fact that 60 per cent of such prisoners are reconvicted within a year of release, at an estimated economic and social cost of £7 billion to £10 billion a year. The NAO argues that NOMS could achieve greater value for money by improving prisons’ work with these offenders.
The Ministry of Justice and NOMS are developing a new strategy to improve the management of prisoners who are sentenced to less than 12 months, but, with pilots still to be completed, these bodies have yet to set out in detail the activities and prisoners to be prioritised and the measures of effectiveness, including cost-effectiveness, and targeted outcomes they will adopt.
"NOMS is successfully keeping the vast majority of short-sentenced prisoners safe and well - a notable achievement in a time of prison overcrowding - and in this respect it is delivering value.
"Achieving NOMS' goal of reducing re-offending by short-sentenced prisoners is challenging both because there are so many prisoners and because of the few weeks they have in custody. However, it is reasonable to expect progress towards that goal. More coherent plans for prisoners, tailored to reducing their risk of re-offending would be a good first step. As they take their new strategy forward, NOMS and the Ministry have the opportunity to put the management of short-sentenced prisoners on a better footing."
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 9 March 2010
Notes for Editors
- Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at www.nao.org.uk. Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
- The Comptroller and Auditor General, Amyas Morse, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 900 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.