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Principles of sentencing - reoffending rates
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Re-offending means

Re-offending means that the offender committed an offence within the two-year follow-up period and was subsequently convicted in court.


Police and courts often use the word 'recidivism' to cover re-offending.


Total who re-offend

The latest crime figures suggest that 57.6 per cent of all offences are committed by persons who have previously been sentenced by a court.


On 9th February 2006 the Home Secretary Charles Clarke, announcing the government's 5 year crime prevention strategy, said,

"A shocking truth is that more than half of all crime in this country is committed by people who have been through the criminal justice system before."

He added, "The idea that "prison works" in stopping re-offending is demonstrably wrong. We have to stop people re-offending, and this strategy will meet that challenge."


Which ever model is used to collect and assess data on re-offending is problematic, so there will always be arguments that data is inaccurate or collected wrongly or interpreted wrongly.

Details on how reoffending is calculated can be found in the government document ‘Making Communities Safer’.

Re-offending by disposal

Community sentence; re-offending

2008 Home Office statistics (“Re-offending of adults: results from the 2006 cohort”) show that just over 50% (down from 61%) of offenders given a community sentence (e.g. the old community rehabilitation orders) re-offend within two years compare with 67% of people given custodial sentences.


It needs to be remembered that those that have been sentenced to imprisonment are more likely to be 'hardened' criminals and so more likely to re-offend and the figures cannot be interpreted as meaning prison is worse at preventing re-offending.


The younger the offender the more likely he is to re-offend, and the more offences he has committed the more he is likely to commit another.


However, those given Drug Treatment and Testing Orders showed the highest - nearly 90% - re-offending within two years.

The government is anxious that community sentences should not be seen as a soft option.

No difference

There is little difference between punishments and the likelihood of re-offending, except the Drug Treatment and Testing Orders which show a very high level of re-offending.


There is little difference in re-offending rates between men and women.


Which offences?

The top offences that are re-offended are:

  1. Theft from vehicles

  2. Absconding or bail offences

  3. Theft

  4. Burglary

  5. Taking and driving away etc

  6. Handling

  7. Other motoring offences

  8. Criminal Damage

Child sex offences are one of the lowest re-offended crimes.


Re-offender profile

The majority of those sentenced were male (77%) and the average age was 27.  There is little difference between re-offending rates when ethnicity is compared, 58% were white.


Most offenders had previous cautions or convictions (ten on average, with three cautions or convictions for theft) and the average number of previous custodial sentences was one.


Seventy-eight per cent of theft offenders re-offended within two years and 57 per cent of these re-offences were for another theft.


Younger adults re-offend more

There is a clear change in the re-offending rates when they are compared by age, with the youngest adult offenders in the sample being considerably more likely to re-offend.


Young offenders (aged 10-17)

Half of young offenders are given reprimands or warnings

Just over half of juveniles are dealt with by way of pre-court disposals which include cautions, reprimands and final warnings; since 2004 cautions have been replaced with reprimands and final warnings.


What is "re-offending"

Actual reoffending rate for 2000-2004 was 41.3%, this represents a 3.8% fall since 2000. 


Re-offended means committing another offence within one year of receiving pre-court disposals, non- custodial disposals and those who were released from custody.


However, "Every known measure of re-offending has its drawbacks", Home Office (2006).


Youth re-offending is falling

Home Office report: "Re-offending of juveniles" compares rates from 2004 with 2000.


The report also shows:

  • 75% of those who re-offended did so within six months.

  • Older offenders are more likely to re-offend: for example, of offenders aged 12, 34.5% re-offended; for offenders aged 17, 44% re-offended.

  • Re-offending rates vary considerably depending on the original offence committed. Those sanctioned for absconding or bail offences, theft from vehicles and other motoring offences have a high re-offending rate, over 55%. Re-offending rates for sexual offences and offences relating to the import/export and supply of drugs are under 30%.

  • Offenders who have been in custody are more likely to re-offend than those with other penalties such as fines and community orders. 30% of those who were dealt with by pre-court disposal re-offended, compared with 78% of those discharged from custody.

  • Those with a larger number of previous convictions are more likely to re-offend. 80% of offenders with eight or more previous sentencing occasions re-offended within one year, while for those with no previous history the rate is around 24%.

The report can be accessed at here.

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