Serious offenders receive serious prison sentences which are appropriate for the crimes they have committed. As they will be in prison for longer, there is time for them not only to be punished but also rehabilitated before they are released on licence.
Offenders who commit less serious offences can only be given shorter prison sentences or a community sentence - sentencing must be appropriate to the seriousness of the offence. Offenders on short prison sentences are almost three times more likely to commit another crime, and one of the reasons for this is the lack of time to deliver effective rehabilitation.
However, offenders who receive community sentences are less likely to offend than those on short prison sentences. So prison isn't always the best way to cut reoffending and make communities safer.
Prison is the best place for serious offenders. There will always be places for anyone whose crime is so serious or whose behaviour cannot be tackled by anything other than a prison sentence.
But less serious criminals often receive community sentences as these are the most effective sentences that could be given for the offence committed. Three out of five short-term prisoners will reoffend within a year, which makes them more likely to reoffend than those with a similar profile who received community sentences.
Offenders who have just been released from prison on licence or are serving their sentence within the community are closely supervised by the probation service.
Probation officers ensure that offenders obey the requirements of their particular sentence so they are punished, but also ensure that the causes of their offending are addressed. This could involve various requirements, including getting treatment for a substance misuse or mental health issue, the use of a curfew, or unpaid work.
Sentences have five purposes: to punish offenders, to reform and rehabilitate offenders, to ensure offenders make up for their crime, to reduce future crime and to protect the public.
Community sentences deliver punishment as well as rehabilitation. They can deprive offenders of their freedom by imposing a curfew monitored using an electronic tag, restricting their actions or behaviours, or requiring them to report to a probation officer on a regular basis. Failing any of these requirements could lead to a return to court and time in prison for a relatively minor offence.
Many prison sentences, as well as being a punishment, will also include rehabilitative requirements to help offenders address the behaviour which leads them to reoffend, like managing their anger or tackling alcoholism and drug abuse.
Prisoners' lives are highly regulated, spending some 25 hours a week on average on purposeful activity, including work, education and training, and programmes addressing their offending, including drug and alcohol treatment. Some 9,000 prisoners are employed every day in prison industries across 400 sites. And current proposals would see prisoners working a 40 hour week.
Basic rights to food and clothing are met, but other privileges must be earned through good behaviour and adherence to prison rules.
The right to have a TV in your cell must be earned, and the cost of the TV paid by the prisoner. TVs are basic 14" models with a small number of channels. Subscription channels like Sky Sports are not allowed. Games consoles are only provided to prisoners with maximum privileges due to their behaviour and performance, and must be paid for by the prisoner. Games rated 18 are not allowed in any circumstances.
Annual cost of reoffending
The sentences given by the court is never based on cost, but on what is just for the crime committed. Prison is expensive, but reoffending is even more expensive. The social and economic cost of reoffenders alone is estimated by the National Audit Office, an independent body, at between £7 billion and £10 billion a year. The annual cost per prisoner was £37,000 in 2010-11, and there were 87,501 prisoners at 30 September 2011.
A sentence served in the community is not a soft option. Curfews with electronic tagging can severely curtail an offender's freedom, and there are strict requirements available under community sentences for offenders to undergo alcohol or drug treatment, or carry out unpaid work.
About 100,000 offenders are sentenced to community payback each year across England and Wales with over 8.8 million hours of unpaid work completed last year. This work is characterised by hard manual labour such as cleaning graffiti and maintaining parks and other green spaces as both punishment and payback to those communities who may have suffered through an offender's actions.
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