Table of contents
- 1. What is the prevalence of crime and reoffending in England and Wales?
- 2. What are the causes of crime?
- 3. What evidence is there on the importance of rehabilitation for reducing reoffending?
- 4. What is being done to rehabilitate offenders?
- 5. Read more
1. What is the prevalence of crime and reoffending in England and Wales?
1.1 Crime rates
The latest set of crime statistics for England and Wales was published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in April 2022 covering crimes up to December 2021. The statistics highlighted the impact of coronavirus on crime rates (noting that some crimes reduced substantially due to lockdown restrictions), and therefore compared many of the offences with figures recorded prior to the pandemic. The statistics used crime survey data and police-recorded crime data.
Overall, the data showed an 18% increase in reported crime rates since pre-pandemic levels, driven by a 54% increase in computer misuse (such as hacking) and fraud offences. However, it noted that fraud offences are likely increased by the high volume of phishing messages individuals may receive. The ONS also found that reports of theft and robbery had decreased:
Overall, Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimates provide the best indicator of long-term trends in crime. Estimates from the Telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales (TCSEW) for the year ending December 2021 compared with the pre-coronavirus year ending December 2019 show:
- an 18% increase in total crime, driven by a 54% increase in fraud and computer misuse offences
- a 15% decrease in theft offences
New TCSEW data provided insights into phishing, one of the main methods used for committing fraud. Although less than 1% of survey respondents who received a suspected phishing message provided personal details that criminals could use, the scale of phishing messages received every month is likely to translate into a high number of fraud offences.
Police recorded crime data give more insight into lower-volume but higher-harm crimes that the survey does not cover or does not capture well. Compared with the year ending December 2020 they show:
- the number of homicides increased by 14% to 691 offences; this was driven by increases in the April to December 2021 period where levels returned to those seen before the pandemic
- a 4% decrease in the number of police recorded offences involving knives or sharp instruments (knife-enabled crime) and a 5% decrease in offences involving firearms; although these offences increased over the last nine months of the year, levels remained lower than before the pandemic
CSEW data on sexual assaults are not available for this release making interpreting trends in sexual offences challenging. Police recorded sexual offences rose by 22% to the highest annual figure recorded in England and Wales (183,587 offences). This includes the highest recorded annual number of rape offences to date (67,125 offences). Caution is needed when interpreting these figures as they may reflect a number of factors including the impact of high-profile cases and campaigns on victims’ willingness to report incidents.
Overall, the ONS noted that the crime survey data showed a long-term fall in crime since the 1990s if computer-based offences are excluded.
Addressing the crime rates for various offences, the ONS data estimated the top four crimes for the period as:
- fraud (41% increase since 2019)
- theft (15% decrease since 2019)
- computer misuse (104% increase since 2019)
- violence (8% decrease since 2019)
1.2 Reoffending rates
Turning to reoffending rates in England and Wales, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reported that the proven reoffending rate for the April to June 2020 offender cohort was 29%. This was a 2.7% increase from the same quarter in 2019, representing the largest year-on-year increase since 2009. However, the MoJ noted that the cohort was considerably smaller due to the coronavirus pandemic, and therefore this may make this quarter’s figures more volatile:
The volume of offenders associated with this latest cohort has decreased sharply due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the overall size decreasing by 56.3% since the same quarter in 2019. This has resulted in figures being considerably more volatile across a number of subgroups.
The offending rate has fluctuated between 24.7% and 31.8% since 2008. However, the average (mean) reoffending rate across this period was 29.8%, with most of the lower rates occurring during the pandemic period.
Breaking the current figures down, it found:
- adult offenders had a proven reoffending rate of 29%
- juvenile offenders had a proven reoffending rate of 33%
- adults starting a court order had a proven reoffending rate of 37%
- adults released from prison had a proven reoffending rate of 39%
2. What are the causes of crime?
The causes of crime are complex and multi-faceted (see, for example, ‘Oxford Handbook of Criminology’, 2017). Criminologists have discussed many theories about the possible causes of crime; some factors considered are individual characteristics, place (such as why some areas may have higher rates of crime) and situational factors (such as increased chances of violent behaviour in environments of alcohol consumption). There are also a number of biological theories and sociological theories.
Different offences may also have different possible causes. For example, the government’s serious violence strategy, published in 2018, listed five potential drivers for serious violence offences:
- Drugs and profit: It reported “strong evidence that illicit drug markets can drive sudden shifts in serious violence”.
- Changes in criminal justice system: Although it noted there was only a minor impact of reducing stop and search on the prevalence of violent crime, it did stress that the “certainty of punishment” may have an impact on the number of offences.
- Character: The strategy noted that a “small minority of people commit the majority of crimes” and stated that factors associated with “personal circumstances whilst growing up can give some individuals a higher propensity for violence”.
- Alcohol: The strategy stated that alcohol was a factor in a “substantial proportion” of serious violence offences, particularly homicide and domestic violence offences.
- Opportunity: The paper noted links between drinking in clubs and pubs and an increased opportunity for violent offences, and the role of social media in promoting gang culture and violence.
Commentators also link deprivation and lack of opportunities with offences. For example, in its 2019 report on serious youth violence, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee stated:
We have found very strong evidence linking deprivation and vulnerability with knife crime and serious youth violence. The current epidemic of youth violence has been exacerbated by a perfect storm emerging from cuts to youth services, heavily reduced police budgets, a growing number of children being excluded from school and taken into care, and a failure of statutory agencies to keep young people safe from exploitation and violence.
In addition, some offences, such as fraud and computer misuse, may be driven by more individual motivations, including profit and self-esteem. For example, Europol claims that the main motivation for economic crime is usually economic gain, with it often seen as a low-risk, high-profit enterprise. However, in its 2017 paper on cyber-crime, the National Crime Agency suggested that young people may be drawn into it by a sense of accomplishment and proving their skills to peers. It also found that:
- they believed there was a low risk of encountering law enforcement
- it was considered a social activity, with many interacting with each other on forums
- positive role models may deter young people from getting involved in the crime
The potential causes of reoffending are also complex. However, commenting on locally-committed crimes, the government has flagged up factors such as drugs, mental health, employment and housing needs as potentially linked:
We know that offenders persistently committing neighbourhood crimes are likely to have high levels of criminogenic need. Dame Carol Black’s recent review of drugs found that nearly half of all acquisitive crimes are estimated to be associated with drug use, and that often these offenders have multiple needs which can reinforce each other (including substance misuse, housing, employment, and mental health). For example, 20% of people in drug and alcohol treatment have a severe housing problem. For many persistent offenders, these needs and their offending behaviours are entrenched, dating back to youth.
The Home Office’s ‘Beating crime plan’, published in October 2021, sets out how the government intends to tackle some of these issues, particularly regarding violent crime, ‘hidden’ crimes (such as domestic violence and child abuse) and fraud or online crimes. This includes measures aimed at tackling the illegal drug trade and improving employment opportunities for prison leavers to reduce reoffending.
The following sources provide further reading on some of the key factors linked to crime, as outlined above:
Deprivation/lack of opportunities
- London Assembly, ‘Revealed: Full links between poverty and violent crime in London’, 15 July 2019
- Vikram Dodd, ‘Tackle poverty and inequality to reduce crime, says police chief’, Guardian, 18 April 2021
- Tim Newburn, ‘Social disadvantage, crime, and punishment’, London School of Economics and Political Science, 2016
- UK Government, ‘From harm to hope: A 10-year drugs plan to cut crime and save lives’, 29 April 2022
- DrugWise, ‘How much crime is drug-related?’, accessed 20 June 2022
- University of Edinburgh, ‘Childhood trauma linked to risk of adult crime’, March 2022
- Kim Williams et al, ‘Prisoners’ childhood and family backgrounds’, Ministry of Justice, March 2012
- House of Lords Library, ‘Commission on Alcohol Harm: “It’s everywhere”—alcohol’s public face and private harm’, 19 April 2021
- Office for National Statistics, ‘Violent crime and sexual offences: Alcohol-related violence’, 12 February 2015
- House of Commons Library, ‘Economic crime in the UK: A multi-billion pound problem’, 6 April 2022
- Mirko Draca and Stephen Machin, ‘Crime and economic incentives’, Annual Review of Economics, April 2015
3. What evidence is there on the importance of rehabilitation for reducing reoffending?
In 2013, the then coalition government published a summary of evidence on the importance of offender rehabilitation for reducing reoffending rates. Summarising the evidence, it highlighted the importance of supervision and the relationship between offender and offender manager. It stated that “good quality supervision, case management and holistic, tailored approaches can support and enable rehabilitation and reintegration”.
Chapter 4 of the report considered evidence on the impact on reoffending of various types of targeted rehabilitation, including:
- addressing drug, alcohol and mental health issues
- addressing accommodation issues
- helping with employment needs
- offender behaviour programmes (programmes that try to change an offender’s attitude, behaviour and way of thinking)
- improving offenders’ relationships with family and peers
Although the report found mixed or insufficient evidence relating to a number of the rehabilitation measures, it said there was good evidence of the positive impact of offender behaviour programmes and drug interventions on reducing reoffending.
More recent assessments include:
- Ministry of Justice and Public Health England, ‘The impact of community-based drug and alcohol treatment on re-offending’, 26 October 2017
- HM Inspectorate of Probation, ‘Accommodation’; and ‘Education, training and employment’, 2 February 2021
- Ministry of Justice, ‘Importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties to prevent reoffending and reduce intergenerational crime’, August 2017
4. What is being done to rehabilitate offenders?
Rehabilitation services in England and Wales are primarily operated through the prison and probation services. However, this also involves co-operation with a number of other public bodies (such as the police) and voluntary organisations.
Each prisoner has an allocated case manager and a custody plan designed to address their specific needs, manage risk of harm and reduce the risk of reoffending.
Prisons run a range of services aimed at reducing reoffending. Services include the provision of academic programmes, vocational courses and employment opportunities (see the 2017 House of Lords Library briefing, ‘Rehabilitation in prisons’, for more details). Accredited offending behaviour programmes and interventions are available to prisoners and those on probation in the community. The programmes can be delivered in groups or one-to-one. They aim to “encourage pro-social attitudes and goals for the future” and to help offenders develop new skills to stop offending. The programmes can be targeted at general or specific types of offending behaviour (for example, sexual violence or offending linked to substance misuse).
Some of the rehabilitation services targeted at resettlement after prison are delivered through the offender management in custody model, which is operated in collaboration with the probation service. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation states that:
Each prisoner [is provided] with a key worker, who is a prison officer, who is there to guide, support, and coach an individual through their custodial sentence. Key workers and prison offender managers, who are employed by the probation service, work together. Prison offender managers produce structured assessments, sentence plans, and facilitate interventions for—and with—the prisoner. These practitioners are the bridge to community probation services, and facilitate resettlement and reintegration activity.
The premise of resettlement is to address offending-related factors, and associated factors, that might act as barriers to reintegration within the community by those leaving custody and by doing so reduce reoffending and promote desistance. This includes securing accommodation, continuance of interventions, family links, access to benefits, and/or employment and training.
In December 2021, the government published its new prisons strategy white paper. One of the primary focuses of the strategy was to create the “right conditions to reform and rehabilitate offenders”. In particular, the government committed to:
- Getting offenders clean and treating addictions that thwart rehabilitation: assessing all prisoners on arrival for drug and alcohol addictions and putting in place a comprehensive plan to support them to properly recover from day one—including abstinence-based treatment.
- Making sure prisoners gain basic standards of numeracy and literacy while inside: ensuring every single prisoner has a basic level of English and maths so they are equipped for work on release, and a new Prisoner Education Service to train up offenders with vocational skills including construction and coding—improving their job prospects and steering them clear of crime.
- New drive to get offenders into work: introducing a new job-matching service that pairs offenders up with vacancies in the community on release and dedicated employment advisors in prisons to help offenders find work.
- Resettlement passports to put proper plans in place for prisoners on release: providing all prisoners with a personalised passport that brings together all the things offenders need to start looking for work straight away, including a CV, identification and a bank account as well as vital support services in the community.
- New fast-tracked punishments: bringing forward a speedier punishment scheme when prisoners transgress. Penalties will be linked directly to their offence and support rehabilitation, for instance forcing prisoners to repair their cells or prison landings if they cause damage.
The government also said prison governors would be given greater autonomy and that “new key performance measures and public league tables” would be produced to “[incentivise] the spread of best practice right across the estate in vital areas including security, training and employment and drug and alcohol addiction”.
In 2021, the Ministry of Justice also launched the prison leavers project, which seeks to reduce reoffending through three different routes:
- Cross-sector teams: These aim to bring together colleagues from across the public and third sector with a focus on health and wellbeing; the day of release from prison; community and relationships; and employability and skills.
- Local leadership and integration fund: A £7mn fund for local partnerships to improve services that reduce reoffending in their area. Funding has already been allocated to a number of groups, including charities and social enterprises.
- Prison leavers innovation challenge: A project involving organisations such as start-ups and small businesses to develop digital or technological solutions to address challenges in reoffending.
In the community, rehabilitation services are principally managed by the probation service. However, their work includes collaboration with other bodies (such as voluntary organisations and the police). For example, there is an integrated offender management strategy targeted at reducing neighbourhood crime. The strategy emphasises the importance of police and probation services working together with community groups on access to rehabilitative services (such as housing and employment support).
The probation service itself is currently split across 12 areas in England and Wales, with each led by a regional probation director. Each of the regions has published a reducing reoffending plan, which sets out plans for interventions in their area and how they intend to aid resettlement. The plans also outline how they will collaborate with other organisations (including voluntary organisations) to address offenders’ needs.
This probation service model was brought into force on 26 June 2021, replacing the ‘transforming rehabilitation’ system that operated from 2014 (see the 2021 House of Commons Library briefing ‘Unification of probation services’ for further information on this change and the previous regime). Explaining how the new model would operate, the government stated:
- [T]he new probation service will be responsible for managing all those on a community order or licence following their release from prison in England and Wales.
- The new probation service will also deliver unpaid work and behavioural change programmes in England and Wales.
- Specialist organisations will continue to play a role in the probation system, delivering resettlement and rehabilitative services such as education, training and employment and accommodation.
The new model also introduced the ‘dynamic framework’ commissioning mechanism for procuring rehabilitation and resettlement services. The House of Commons Justice Committee explained this further in its 2021 report on the future of the probation service:
The dynamic framework is a commissioning mechanism to enable regional probation directors to procure rehabilitation and resettlement interventions across England and Wales. Services from the framework will be used for individuals on community orders and those supervised on licence in the community. HM Prison and Probation Service note:
- Resettlement services: are delivered to individuals still in custody to help them prepare for release and resettle post-release, focused specifically on supporting and addressing needs in relation to transition from prison as well as reintegration into community life.
- Rehabilitative interventions are focused on the need to reduce reoffending for those on community orders, suspended sentences and licences and are intended to support individuals to re-integrate in the community and reduce reoffending by addressing a range of needs.
The Ministry of Justice set out the design rationale for the dynamic framework:
Our plans for a dynamic framework will allow the national probation service (and other organisations) to directly commission services in a way that encourages the participation of a range of suppliers including smaller suppliers and is responsive to the needs of local areas. We need the talent and expertise of the private, voluntary and public sectors working together as effectively as possible to cut reoffending and protect the public.
The first group of contracts was announced by the Ministry of Justice on 21 May 2021. It noted that:
- around £46mn was being awarded to charities (such as the Nelson Trust and Women in Prison) supporting women in the justice system
- over £33mn will go to charities focusing on homelessness (such as St Mungo’s and NACRO)
- £33mn will go to companies which provide support for skills and employment (including Seetec and Maximus)
- up to £118mn will go to organisations that work with offenders on their personal issues (such as Catch 22 and the Forward Trust)
4.3 Voluntary sector involvement
When announcing the move to the new probation service model, the government highlighted the important role of the voluntary sector in the rehabilitation process. It hoped it would be able to play an “enhanced role” in the new system:
The voluntary sector—so fundamental to reducing reoffending by improving the lives of offenders through rehabilitation—will play an enhanced role in the probation system. Charities and private sector organisations will be able to compete for more than £100mn pounds a year from today to run services such as education, employment, accommodation and support for those with addictions. Cutting reoffending rates will mean fewer people becoming a victim of crime.
Commenting on its first experience of the dynamic framework bidding process, Clinks (a charity that supports the voluntary sector’s work with the criminal justice system) noted that the majority of delivery partners would now be voluntary sector organisations, but expressed concerns that smaller or marginalised bodies were still being “shut out”:
[T]he majority of delivery partners for resettlement and rehabilitation services will be voluntary sector organisations and approximately two thirds of the total contract value has gone to the voluntary sector. We are pleased that the government has recognised the knowledge and expertise in our sector which has emerged as the main partner in the delivery of rehabilitation and resettlement services.
Our influencing work also led to the creation of a contract lot for specialist services to meet the unique needs of women in contact with the criminal justice system, which has been won entirely by voluntary sector organisations, the vast majority of whom are specialist women’s centres.
Still, a limited few in the voluntary sector are involved—and these are mainly larger organisations. There are only 23 voluntary sector lead providers (out of a total 26 across 110 contracts). The investment in women’s services doesn’t fully fund everything these organisations do or need. The process was so complex that organisations chose not to or were unable to get involved. There are no Welsh organisations leading delivery in Wales, and low involvement in supply chains of very small and local organisations, those led by and focused on racially minoritised people, and Welsh organisations.
Further information on the role of the voluntary sector in the criminal justice system can be found in the latest annual report by Clinks on the state of the sector and on the organisation’s webpage: ‘The voluntary sector working in the criminal justice system’. Some key statements from the organisation’s webpage follow:
- Over 1,700 voluntary organisations work in the criminal justice system.
- The sector plays a unique and valuable role in engaging with, and highlighting, the unmet needs of some of the most excluded communities and those suffering multiple disadvantages —those which mainstream services often fail to reach. Their work is conducted inside and out of prisons, with some doing both, ensuring continuity of support through the prison gate.
- Service delivery varies greatly. Some specialise in meeting the needs of a particular group of people, for example women, older people or people from particular ethnic groups. Others focus on a particular issue, for example substance misuse, debt advice or housing. Some groups focus on a form of intervention, the arts, restorative justice and so on. These organisations have expertise, knowledge and experience that make them crucial partners in the design, as well as the delivery, of services.
- Most voluntary sector organisations in criminal justice are locally run. The local connection, in addition to the commitment and independence of the sector, can give credibility with people in the criminal justice system who may believe that the state has failed them. These factors can help the sector to build and maintain trust with a group that can be difficult to engage with.
Clinks also maintains directories of voluntary organisations working in the sector.
5. Read more
House of Commons Justice Committee reports
- ‘Future of the probation service’, HC 285 of session 2019–21, 23 April 2021; and ‘Government response’, 2 July 2021
- ‘Transforming rehabilitation’, HC 482 of session 2017–19, 22 June 2018; and ‘Government response’, 7 June 2021
- ‘Transforming rehabilitation: Follow-up’, HC 2526 of session 2017–19, 19 July 2019; and ‘Government response’, 16 March 2020
- Ministry of Justice, ‘Prison education statistics April 2019 to March 2021’, 5 August 2021
- New Philanthropy Capital, ‘Breaking reoffending cycles in the criminal justice system’, 2021
- Local Government Association, ‘Supporting the youngest children in the youth justice system: What works to reduce offending and improve outcomes?’, 25 April 2022
- Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, ‘Why rehabilitation—not harsher prison sentences—makes economic sense’, The Conversation, 24 March 2020
Cover image by Sang Hyun Cho from Pixabay