A former director general of the Prison Service has said rehabilitation of offenders in jail does not work and should be scrapped.
Sir Martin Narey will say in a speech on Tuesday that research to establish a causal link between rehabilitation and reduced reoffending is lacking and short courses cannot fix problems caused by difficult childhoods.
“The things we did to prisoners, the courses we put them on, the involvement of charities, made little or no difference,” he will tell the International Corrections and Prisons Association conference in Buenos Aires.
Instead, the best the prison estate can offer prisoners is an environment where they are treated with “decency and dignity”, he will say. “Decent prisons in which prisoners are respected seem to provide a foundation for prisoner self-growth. Indecent, unsafe prisons allow no such growth and further damage those who have to survive there.”
He will add: “Stop fretting about rehabilitation. Politely discourage those who will urge you to believe that they have a six-week to six-month course which can undo the damage of a lifetime. The next time someone tells you they have a quick scheme which can transform lives – transform is the word of which you should be particularly suspicious – politely explain that life isn’t that simple.”
In August Boris Johnson announced a £100m programme to crack down on crime in prisons and boost rehabilitation. He said at the time: “We will stop the drugs, weapons and mobile phones coming in so we can safeguard victims, protect staff, cut violence and make our prisons properly equipped to reform and rehabilitate.”
A Prison Reform Trust briefing based on government statistics shows that reoffending rates overall are at about 50%. A House of Lords briefing in 2017 said that despite various rehabilitation initiatives in prison, reoffending rates remained too high.
Mark Leech, the editor of Prison Oracle, welcomed Narey’s comments. He said: “Expecting our prisons to reform those we throw into them from high-crime inner-city housing estates, with their school exclusions, unemployment, poor opportunities, poor parenting and where gangs, guns, drugs, alcohol, violence and crime are embedded, is an impossible ask when the living experience in so many jails is one of disrespect and often abuse, violence and filth. It’s like asking an A&E department to reduce accidents and then blaming the doctors when car crashes increase.”
Rehabilitation and social reintegration of prisoners
Adopted at the conclusion of the 13th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, the Doha Declaration highlights the importance of supporting measures to support the rehabilitation and social reintegration of prisoners into the community.
Within the framework of the Global Programme for the Implementation of the Doha Declaration and its pillar on fair, humane and effective criminal justice systems, UNODC supports Member States in establishing a more rehabilitative approach to prison management.
Investments into corresponding programmes for prisoners are one of the best and most cost-effective ways of preventing their re-offending, with significant benefits not only for the individuals concerned, but also for public safety more broadly.
Supporting rehabilitation programmes in prisons
UNODC assists Member States in breaking the cycle of re-offending by providing prison administrations with technical guidance on how to initiate and/or enhance rehabilitation programmes, in close coordination with other (non-)governmental stakeholders, including civil society and the private sector. All guidance and advisory services are based on the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) – UNODC’s ‘normative compass’ in this regard.