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Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, today welcomed progress made by the Prison Service in introducing programmes designed to help reduce the risk of reoffending but said there needs to be greater consistency in their provision across prisons.

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Currently around 58 per cent of prisoners are reconvicted within two years of being released. Many of these prisoners have drug problems and poor levels of literacy and numeracy. Eighty per cent of prisoners admit drug misuse in the year before prison.

The Prison Service has rapidly expanded its provision of offending behaviour, drug misuse and education programmes to help address these issues. However, a prisoner’s access to programmes still owes much to where they are sent. The report also shows that the approaches adopted to help prisoners resettle in the community vary widely between prisons, even between those of similar type.

Evaluations of the effectiveness of some early unaccredited programmes suggested a reduction in the risk of re-offending. Better management information systems need to be developed to enable a full assessment of the impact of programmes, including the performance of individual prisons.

More generally, the NAO recommends that the Service builds on the efforts made to date and:

  • improve the planning of prisoners’ time in custody including closer working with the Probation Service. Prisoners’ sentence plans should identify: the risks of their reoffending and how these risks should be tackled; and what help they need to resettle into the community, including assistance to find accommodation and employment and to maintain family ties;
  • ensure that all prisoners who would benefit from attending programmes have the opportunity to do so. At present, provision varies markedly between prisons and many prisoners leave prison without having had the opportunity to address their offending behaviour. For example, virtually all prisons holding high security risk prisoners had drug treatment programmes by March 2001, whereas provision was less frequent in prisons holding lower security risk prisoners where the risk of reoffending is high;
  • ensure that programmes are appropriately targeted at all prisoner groups, including, for example juvenile offenders (15 to 17 year olds), female prisoners and ethnic minorities;
  • strengthen work with prisoners serving short sentences to reduce the risk of their being drawn into a cycle of reoffending. Such prisoners are not subject to sentence planning and because of the length of their sentences will have fewer opportunities to acquire educational or work skills, receive treatment for their drug misuse, or undertake offending behaviour programmes;
  • improve the relevance of work experience provided in prison. The kinds of work currently done in prison do not, in many instances, enhance prisoners’ prospects of jobs outside;
  • provide an agreed minimum level and standard of assistance to prisoners to resettle in the community, based on good practice across the prison estate; and
  • improve collaboration with the Probation Service, health authorities and voluntary groups so that released prisoners who need continuing support receive it.

"By doing the right things with prisoners while they are in jail there are real opportunities to reduce reoffending. The Prison Service deserves credit for introducing new programmes so rapidly. They now need to reduce the variation in the provision of programmes between prisons and, working with the probation service and other agencies, help ensure that prisoners receive appropriate support on release."

Sir John Bourn


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