Limit prison to only most serious offences

There have been calls for the Government to take a fresh look at the effectiveness of sending people to prison after a new report showed almost half of prison inmates had re-offended within three years, writes Noel Baker.

Significantly, prisoners jailed for robbery, extortion and hijacking offences were statistically most likely to re-offend as were those whose initial offence involved burglary and theft and related offences. Recidivism in all those categories stood at over 60%

The report issued by the Central statistics Office (CSO), based on a 2010 cohort of offenders, showed more than 45% of the 9,339 people monitored had committed further crimes.

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, deputy executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, said too many people were sent to prison for minor offences and that, as institutions, jails did not always work in cutting re-offending.

“Prison is damaging in itself and that’s why it should be limited to the most serious offences,” Ms Ní Chinnéide said. She argued, in many cases, inmates were released back into a society with few or any of the issues that prompted their initial offending having been addressed.

She also said schemes that work with young offenders should be extended up to the age of 24.

The percentage of re-offending among those aged 25 and under rose to more than 50%. Among those aged 21 to 25, 1,270 people from a total of 2,504 had re-offended within three years. The recidivism rate fell below 30% only in the age group of those aged 51 and above.

Among the total number of offenders whose progress was charted in the study, 46% of men had reoffended within three years, compared with 37.8% of women.

However, the CSO pointed out that the overall recidivism rate for the 2010 cohort was actually down 2.4% from the 2009 figure of 47.5%.

It also said that male reoffending fell from 48.2% to 46.% while the rate for females fell from 41.2% to 37.8%. The rate of reoffending among younger prisoners also fell, from 54.4% in 2009 to 49.8%, down 4.6% among those aged under 21.

However, the reoffending rate among older prisoners increased by 4.6% among those aged 51 and over. The CSO pointed out that recidivism among women aged under 21 fell by nearly 13% while recidivism for those women aged 51 and over rose almost 9%.

As for when the re-offending occurred, the figures showed of the 4,208 individuals who feature in the study, 60.8% offended within six months their official release date and an additional 16.7% within one year. In the under 21 age category, 94.2% had re-offended within one year. Just over 67% of those aged 51 and over reoffended within a year.

Most of those who re-offended were subsequently convicted for offences which fell into a different crime group than their initial imprisonment offence, while one-in-five were convicted for offences of the same crime type.

A separate CSO study based on re-offending behaviour of adult and young offenders who were given Probation Orders and Community Service Orders in 2010, found a similar pattern of recidivism.

The recidivism rate for offenders referred in 2010 was 37.5%, up 0.2% on findings from the previous year’s cohort. Again, males and young offenders were more likely to be back in trouble with the law within a short time frame, with almost half re-offending within a year.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner


KEYWORDS: prison, offences

 

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