July 12, 2010: What Price Public Protection, Asks Probation Chief Inspector
Small but very significant improvements have been made in reducing reoffending by adults and young people in recent years, but a debate is needed on the price of public protection, said Andrew Bridges, Chief Inspector of Probation, publishing his annual report.
Inspections found that public protection work by Probation Trusts and Youth Offending Teams has been improving. However, the very high cost of keeping record numbers of offenders in prison should be measured against the relatively marginal benefits achieved, and we should consider the merits of managing more prisoners in the community, said Bridges.
The annual report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) website. HMIP is an independent inspectorate, sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, and reporting directly to the Secretary of State on the effectiveness of work with offenders, aimed at reducing reoffending and protecting the public.
Over the past year, HM Inspectorate of Probation has continued its practice of focusing priority attention to public safety work, measuring how often public protection work is carried out to a sufficiently high level of quality. Risk of harm cannot be eliminated completely, but the public expects the authorities to do their jobs properly . this means taking all reasonable action to keep to a minimum each offender's risk of harm to the public.
In a busy year for the Inspectorate, 2009 saw the start of the new Inspection of Youth Offending Programme in April, covering key aspects of the work of all 157 Youth Offending Teams over a three-year period. In September 2009, the new adult Offender Management Programme began, in which all NOMS Probation Trusts will be visited over a three-year period.
Joint thematic inspections included the publication of reports on Prolific and Priority Offenders, Offenders with Mental Disorders and, with HMI Prisons, Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection. In November 2009, the results of the special case inspections in London were published, undertaken following concerns arising from the Sonnex case.
Despite the difficulties in measuring reoffending, and in isolating what makes it more or less likely to happen, the Chief Inspector is inviting consideration of some of the numbers involved:
the end of custody licence scheme saw 80,000 relatively 'low seriousness' prisoners released up to 18 days early from their sentences from June 2007 to March 2010. In each year during this scheme, around 30,000 prisoners were released about a fortnight early, with about 500 of them committing a total of around 600 further offences during that period. The cost of keeping 30,000 people in custody for around a fortnight is £48m, giving a figure of around £80,000 to prevent each offence for just over a fortnight. Or, we are locking up 59 people who may not need to be locked up in order to lock up one who is going to offend again in that very short period.
many prisoners serving the more serious sentences for public protection are being kept in custody past their tariff date, with around 2,500 thus currently locked up as a form of preventive detention, costing in the region of £80m a year. If these people were at liberty, they might commit as many as 40 serious crimes a year . thought probably fewer - giving a figure of around £2m or more per year to prevent each individual further serious crime. Again, this means at least 59 offenders are being locked up for a whole year to prevent one such crime.
Andrew Bridges commented:
"The encouraging news is that overall, Probation Trusts and Youth Offending teams are improving the quality of their public protection work. They cannot eliminate risk of harm to the public completely, but they should do all they reasonably can to keep that risk to a minimum. More widely, the country as a whole has seen a small but identifiable decrease in reoffending at both adult and youth level in recent years, and Probation and Youth Offending have both contributed to that.
"However, it would be timely to reflect on the public's expectations of this work, and the price we are all collectively prepared to pay for it. Do we want to keep around 60 people in custody to prevent just one from reoffending? Or is the public prepared to accept the .cost. of having more prisoners managed in the community to achieve what could be substantial financial savings? Grown-up choices need to be made."