The government should set up an institute to determine the cost-effectiveness of criminal justice interventions, in order to cut crime, prison numbers and public spending on penal policy.
That was the message from a report out today from think-tank the New Economics Foundation, backed by the Prison Reform Trust, which called for a creation of a body along the lines of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.
It said criminal justice interventions should be based on a long-term analysis of the costs and benefits to society, a role carried out by Nice in the health service.
Female offenders mostly non-violent
The report focused on alternatives to prison for female offenders and said community sentences worked better and cost far less for women, who were mostly not serious nor violent offenders.
Report author Eilis Lawlor said: “Our research shows that, for non-violent women offenders, effective community sentences that address the causes of criminal behaviour are more cost-effective and are more likely to help them turn their lives around.”
It said the effectiveness of sentences should be tracked over a long-term period and the impact on women’s families and communities should be taken into account.
£100m in benefits
The researchers found that there could be over £100 million in benefits to society over a 10-year period by using alternatives to prison.
It backed one of the key recommendations of last year’s review into vulnerable women in the criminal justice system by Baroness Corston, to set up a network of support and supervision centres to administer community sentences and address the causes of offending.
The report said that without urgent reform, most women would continue to leave prison with the drug, drink or mental health problems which they entered with, and would go on to re-offend.
Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon said: “Women’s prisons are not full of serious and violent offenders; instead they are being used as stopgap, cut-price providers of drug detox, mental health assessment and shelter – a dumping ground for those failed by public services.”