New coalition stresses role of councils in fighting recidivism

A coalition of councils, probation boards and penal reformers has formed to lobby the Government to let local authorities play a greater part in tackling the UK’s chronic problem of criminal reoffending and in rescuing its overloaded prison system.

The Coalition of Social and Criminal Justice, which has members including the Local Government Association (LGA), the Probation Boards’ Association and the Prince’s Trust, published a report this month that highlights the extent of the reoffending problem.

The report reveals that 67 per cent of people released from prison reoffend within just two years, costing the UK £11bn annually. It also claims that the national rate is rising, not falling.

Chair of the coalition, LGA member and councillor Hazel Harding commented: “The criminal justice system needs to encourage and fund local solutions, making justice visible, involving communities and restoring public confidence.

“At the moment many offenders simply drop off the radar after their release, often only reappearing the next time they commit a crime. A local approach would make sure offenders are closely monitored and given the right support and guidance.”

However, the report also reveals that, despite chronic overcrowding in the UK’s prison system, 50,000 people each year receive prison sentences of six months or less.

The coalition observes that prison sentences have a negative effect on reoffending because they disrupt the job prospects, housing, drug treatment programmes and family environments that lessen the likelihood of a return to crime.

A third of prisoners lose their homes while in prison, it says, while two-thirds lose their jobs. In addition, more than a fifthface increased financial problems upon release and more than two-fifths lose contact with their families.

The coalition claims that local government involvement is key to managing the successful transition of prisoners to normal civilian life. It argues that the Government’s target of reducing the reoffending rate by 10 per cent by 2010 can only be achieved with the involvement of institutions at local level.

In particular, these include local councils, which have a range of expertise in managing critical factors such as housing, education, employment, drug and alcohol treatment and family support.

The coalition is also urging the UK courts to make greater use of community sentences, which are proven to promote a lower reoffending rate. Criminals subject to community sentences have only a 53 per cent likelihood of reoffending.