The view from the probation service
(link) In support of his battle with the government to prevent privatisation of the Probation Service, the assistant general secretary Harry Fletcher of the probation union, NAPO recently said,
“….re-offending by those on community sentences was at least 13% lower than those released from jail.”
He’s trying to convince us all that probation, along with community punishments in general, are more effective than prison. I suppose he has his axe to grind on behalf of vested interests, but whilst I’d agree that probation has a role to play in the criminal justice system, it can only be as part of a process which includes prison, and not as a substitute for prison itself.
The 13% figure quoted by Harry Fletcher could well be a factual statement, and yet it supports the big lie preached by most prison reformers, and even believed by the more ill informed of them, i.e. the vast majority. On first reading it suggests that if we closed all of our prisons, and sentenced all criminals to community punishments then re-offending will fall by 13%. It doesn’t take much intelligence to spot the logical fallacy here.
Two populations can only be sensibly compared as to their outcomes if they are identical populations to begin with. For example, if it were possible to select two statistically identical groups of persistent offenders, say criminals with the same number of previous community punishments, and give half of then yet another community punishment, and the other half a prison sentence, then some valuable data on re-offending might be collected. But this isn’t how those with a preconceived agenda work. They would have us believe that a re-offending rate comparison can be made between your average criminal who has served a prison sentence, who might have a long history of cautions, fines, community service, and probation orders with someone who is on the first rung of the criminal system ladder. The former group could well contain a high proportion of near hopeless recidivists, after all one has to try hard these days to make it as far as prison, whilst the latter group may not be in this category.
So it’s hardly surprising that, “…re-offending by those on community sentences was at least 13% lower than those released from jail.” Sadly, no valid conclusions can be drawn from the poor quality data presented, but the higher re-offending reported, if true, might equally suggest that either prisons are failing to rehabilitate, that prisons are too soft, that sentences are too short or a combination of all these factors.
If only prison reformers could look at data and draw logical conclusions, rather than using data to support their ideology, then the world might be a safer place with fewer victims of crime.