Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Number of prisoners sent back to jail trebles

UK/Return to prison increases 247%

UK: The number of prisoners being sent back to jail after release has nearly trebled in the past five years, according to a report published today.

Most of those people returning to prison have been sent back because they have breached the conditions of their licence - which releases them into the community under the supervision of the probation service - and not because they have committed further criminal offences, the report by the Prison Reform Trust said.

The charity, which campaigns for a more humane and effective penal system, wants the probation service to increase support to prisoners on licence in order that they understand the conditions of their release.

The prison service should also always explain to prisoners why they are back in prison, so that they have time, if appropriate, to appeal the decision, the charity said.

Enver Solomon, the author of the report, Recycling Offenders Through Prison, said today: "This story isn't just about the figures but more about why these figures have gone up, why people are returned to custody and why can't they cope?"

Mr Solomon said he knew of cases where prisoners with learning difficulties had been recalled to prison after failing, as part of their license agreements, to attend probation meetings because they were unable to distinguish between Thursday and Tuesday.

He said: "These prisoners have returned to prison not because they pose a threat to public safety but because they have needs which aren't being met."

Juliet Lyon, director of the trust, said: "The current system for breach of licence and recall sets people up to fail. Arrangements designed to be tough and fair are too often turning out to be punitive and unjust."

The number of prisoners recalled to custody for breaching their licence in 2000-2001 was 2,333, according to official figures from the Home Office. By 2003-4, that figure had soared to 8,103 - an increase of 247%.

The report revealed that in a three-month period at the end of last year, 8% of offenders on parole who had been sentenced to more than four years' imprisonment were sent back to prison for committing another criminal offence.

But for prisoners who had served shorter sentences, between 12 months and four years, the number being recalled for re-offending rose to 40%. However, the report said, reconviction rates for people serving shorter sentences were traditionally higher.

The Home Office said the increase in the number of prisoners released on license being recalled to jail reflected improved performance by the probation service.

A spokeswoman said: "The increase in recall of prisoners reflects our overriding concern to protect the public from further offending and sends a clear signal that we will not tolerate poor behaviour from those offenders serving a sentence in the community."

The report comes as the prison population in England and Wales has reached a record high of 75,877, an increase of 25,000 prisoners over the last decade.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said the increase in the number of released prisoners returning to prison was due to Home Office targets introduced five years ago.

He said: "The Home Office set rigorous enforcement targets for prisoners so that anybody who failed to turn up for three appointments with their probation officer while on licence was automatically returned to prison. Our professional discretion was taken away. "The government has to decide whether it wants to continue to go down the path of punishment and enforcement or reintroduce professional discretion, rehabilitation and reform."

By Debbie Andalo Wednesday May 25, 2005


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