Reoffending rates top 70% in some prisons, figures reveal

Reoffending is higher among criminals who are locked up than do community sentences – with 74% of ex-inmates at one prison convicted again within a year

Fourteen prisons in England and Wales, most of which hold short-term inmates, have reconviction rates of more than 70%, Ministry of Justice figures disclosed today reveal.

The reconviction rates for individual prisons published for the first time show that Dorchester, in Dorset, has the highest at 74.7% for adult male prisoners and New Hall, in Yorkshire, has the highest reconviction rates for female prisoners at 76%.

The MoJ’s first compendium of reoffending statistics and analysis shows that prisoners starting a community punishment under probation supervision have a reoffending rate 7 points below those discharged from short-term prison sentences of 12 months or less – 46% compared with 53%.

The statistics, based on 2007 data, show that reoffending rates for individual prisons range from 26.7% to 76.6% for criminals locked up for less than 12 months and between 2% and 55% for those serving more than a year.

MoJ statisticians warn against creating a prison performance league table and argue that the mix of prisoner types in each jail determines the reconviction rate. But Dorchester is named as having the highest rate for those serving short sentences at male local prisons, followed by Gloucester (74.6%), Leeds (74%) and Hull (73.8%).

Other male prisons with reconviction rates above 70% are Bristol, Durham, Exeter, High Down in Surrey, and Holme House in Cleveland. Elmley in Kent is the only category C training prison with a rate above 70%, while four women’s prisons fall into this category – New Hall, Low Newton, near Durham, Styal in Cheshire and Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire.

The statistics underline the long-term ineffectiveness of the criminal justice system at diverting persistent offenders from a life of crime. Of those given a community punishment or sent to prison, 74% are convicted of another crime within nine years.

In a survey of 1,435 prisoners, 68% named a job as the most important factor in preventing them going back to a life of crime after leaving prison, while for 60% it was having somewhere to live.

The analysis also reveals that the number of serious further offences, including murder, rape and grievous bodily harm, committed by former prisoners within a year of their release reached 592 in 2008/09.

The MoJ figures show that reconviction rates were higher for prisoners who had at one time been excluded from school or taken into care, were homeless or jobless before being sent to prison, or had witnessed violence in their childhood home.

Reoffending rates were also higher for those from criminal families – those in which an immediate relative has been convicted of a crime other than a motoring offence.

More than 70% of prisoners admitted using drugs in the 12 months before they went to prison. An alarming 7% said they first took heroin in prison.

The prisons minister, Crispin Blunt, said the statistics showed that a more intelligent approach to sentencing was needed to tackle the causes of crime and reoffending.

He said: “Reoffending rates among short-term prisoners remain unacceptably high. We will address this failure in the system by making prisons places of hard work which prepare offenders more effectively in the outside world.”

He added that while it was invidious to compare reoffending rates between prisons, it was an important first step in focusing work on ending the cycle of reoffending by targeting interventions that work.

Juliet Lyon, of the Prison Reform Trust, said the figures showed that a home, a job and a supportive family were important in helping criminals avoid recidivism.

“If you compare the results of a community penalty with a short prison sentence, you can see why the justice secretary wants to keep petty offenders out of prison and paying back in the community,” she said.

But Blair Gibbs of the centre-right think-tank Policy Exchange, said they showed that neither prison nor probation work well enough.

He said: “The justice system is failing to deter criminals who remain active for many years and sentences are clearly not working to rehabilitate when most offenders go back to crime regardless of how many prior sentences they have served.

“The government’s ambition for a rehabilitation revolution is welcome, but the hard truth is that cutting reoffending is really difficult and there is no magic bullet.”