The key issue when discussing re-offending is whether the treatment of those who commit crimes should emphasise punishment or rehabilitation. If the answer given is punishment then it is clear that sentences given out to young people are relatively lenient partly due to the financial cost of prison places, and partly due to an awareness that long periods in prison, far from being simply a punishment, tend to instil a criminal mentality in young people and provide them with on-going criminal networks through which they can gain solidarity once they are released.
If the answer given is rehabilitation, then the issue is more complicated, as successful rehabilitation ought to do precisely that, and therefore, see a decrease in re-offenses. In 2010, Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, made a speech as part of the new coalition government outlining his plans for tackling crime and re-offending. Key, was the implementation of what he called a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ which would place the emphasis on community sentences as opposed to penal sentences and the greater involvement of voluntary and community sectors in delivering services. As part of this, Clarke announced his intention to introduce a ‘Payment by Results’ structure which would see independent organisations being paid by results for reducing re-offending (i.e. successful rehabilitation). His new policy also planned to make punishment more robust and credible, to make prisons places of hard work and industry, and to make increasing use of tagging and curfews.
However, rehabilitation schemes often do not address the individual young person in question in a holistic way, meaning that once they have to return to their old living area and acquaintances, especially with lower employment prospects, it becomes harder for them not to re-offend. The Ministry’s ‘Breaking the Cycle’ report concentrated on housing and employment as it acknowledged these difficulties, stating that key elements of rehabilitation would be lost if housing and employment were not addressed. It stated an intention to improve offenders’ skills and prospects of work by making them engage in hard work and reparation, providing them with training tailored to the needs of the labour market. This was aligned to the thinking in Kimmett et al.’s (2004:16) ‘Time Well Spent’ report written for The Prison Trust, which argued for greater opportunities for prisoners to volunteer. It described five types of active citizenship which could help in improving skills—peer support, charity work, restorative justice, prisoner representative duties, and arts and media.
The recognition of the individual as a holistic entity also relates to some of the specific Standards of Proficiency (SOP) for Social Work, namely the ability to understand the need to address practices which present a risk to service users, and the ability to respect and uphold the rights, dignity, values and autonomy of every service user and carer. Both these are not possible unless the individual is considered within their full context and taking all their circumstances into consideration.
While the giving of community sentences given has increased, this has not offset the number of custodial sentences. This may suggest that legislators do not yet have faith in such sentences. As Mills argues, there was a notable growth in the number of people being given a community-based sentence following the reforms, yet despite their popularity, these new sentences were not seen as effective alternatives to custody (2011: 8). A 2004 report from the organisation Rethinking called ‘The Reputation of Alternatives to Prison: Building Community and Magistrate Support’ also found a certain amount of lack of trust in community sentences on the part of the magistrates. The report recognised that magistrates care a great deal...