Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence



Home Office Memorandum providing additional information together with Annexes


  Home Office Research Study 202 "The parole system at work; a study of risk-based decision-making", by Professor Roger Hood and Dr Stephen Shute of the University of Oxford Centre for Criminological Research, was published in May 2000.

  The researchers calculated a prediction model of parole decision-making, based on seven variables. These were:

    —  Actuarial Risk of Reconviction (ROR) of a serious (ie imprisonable) offence during the parole period. (The ROR is estimated from the past offending records of a very large number of prisoners. It takes into account the offender's sex, age at conviction, number of youth custody sentences, number of previous adult custody sentences, number of previous convictions, and type of offence);

    —  The prisoner's security category;

    —  Whether the seconded probation officer's (SPO) report indicated that offending behaviour courses had been completed;

    —  Whether the seconded probation officer recommended parole;

    —  Whether the home probation officer recommended parole;

    —  The number of adjudications in prison; and

    —  Whether the prisoner had previous conviction of a sexual or violent nature.

  All these are factors which it is entirely lawful and proper for the Parole Board to take into account. The researchers found that this model accurately predicted some 85 per cent of the Parole Board decisions covered by their study.

  They used this predictive model to explore whether apparent differences in parole rates for different groups of prisoners can be explained by legally relevant factors.

  In their sample, the parole rates for different ethnic groups were:
Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi) 73%
Black (Caribbean and African)28%

  The researchers found that Asian prisoners were more likely to be in the lowest ROR risk band (because they had on average less serious criminal histories); more likely to have no adjudications in prison; more likely to have finished any courses mentioned in the SPO's report; and in consequence, to be more likely to be recommended for parole by both probation officers.

  The predicted parole rate for Asian prisoners in the sample was 65.5 per cent compared with the observed rate of 73 per cent. This is not a statistically significant difference given the small number of Asian prisoners in the study. The researchers concluded that the differences in parole rates appear to be well explained by the extent to which prisoners in the different ethnic groups met the criteria used by the Board.

  More recent data on parole and ethnicity is given in Annex A, which shows that in 1999-2000 the overall parole rates for white and black prisoners were broadly similar (the rate for black prisoners being slightly higher than for white), while those of Chinese and, as would be expected from Hood and Shute's study, South Asian prisoners were markedly higher.


  The Parole Board does not organise panel meetings on a regional basis. All DCR panels (responsible for dealing with parole applications) meet in London, and comprise three members drawn from the Board's membership across England and Wales. As there are 85 members who sit on DCR panels, the same three members will rarely sit together. Each panel considers 24 cases which are not allocated by prison or area. Panel decisions may be unanimous or by majority, and individual panel members' initial views may change as a result of discussion during the meeting. It would therefore not be practicable to collect data on individual Board members' decisions.


  The Prison Service does not classify or record prisoners' social class, and the Home Office is not aware of any research evidence regarding the interplay between social class and the operation of the current parole system.

  The Prison Service is, however, actively addressing the social inclusion agenda. Prison staff have recently started to record housing and employment status on reception and Prison Service Instructions require establishments to seek to take action to prevent avoidable loss of home or job; planned housing and employment status at discharge is also being recorded, with a view to setting targets to improve outcomes. The planned joint prison-probation offender assessment system, OASys, will collect information systematically on factors relating to the individual's offending—including housing, education, training, employment, family relationships, lifestyle and associates, drug and alcohol use—as a basis for planning appropriate inteventions to reduce likelihood of re-offending and risk of serious harm.

  The Prison Service has also worked closely with the Cabinet Office Social Exclusion Unit on a number of studies and on the implementation of their conclusions. For example:

    —  The Prison Service is working with the Rough Sleepers Unit (set up to implement the Social Exclusion Unit's first report) to reduce homelessness among those discharged from prison, including producing user-friendly leaflets on social security for those entering or leaving custody; and pilot schemes with voluntary organisations.

    —  The Prison Service initiated an inter-departmental scoping study of barriers to housing and employment for offenders, which is feeding into the current Social Exclusion Unit study into the resettlement of prisoners.

  A "custody to work" Unit has been set up, with additional investment of £21 million planned for 2002-04, to co-ordinate achievement of the Service Delivery Agreement target of doubling the number of prisoners securing jobs on release from custody.



  The Prison Service is seeking to implement the Government's commitment to providing constructive regimes through a comprehensive package of measures designed to improve and expand opportunities for prisoners to tackle their offending behaviour. Through the Comprehensive Spending Review, an extra £226 million has been provided for regimes initiatives.

  In addition, funds have been provided to take forward other work (including resettlement of short-term prisoners, and the development of new offending behaviour programmes) through the Crime Reduction Programme.

  Key priorities are:

    —  An expansion of existing Offending Behaviour Programmes in terms of the overall number of prisoners involved, and the number of establishments able to offer programmes.

    —  Other regime activity to engage prisoners in constructive activity and to make them face up to their offending behaviour—primarily educational programmes which will improve and develop basic skills and enhance the employability prospects of prisoners on their release.

    —  Taking forward the commitment to provide access to voluntary testing unit places ("drug-free" wings) for all prisoners wishing to prove they are drug free and build upon the drug treatment programmes and services established thus far.

    —  Establishment of a distinct juvenile estate within the Prison Service with improved quality of care and regime activity.

    —  Developing joint initiatives with the Probation Service to ensure better and more consistent management of offenders before and after release—with a focus on "what works" and developing commons tools and standards.


  The Prison Service's development of cognitive-behavioural, drug treatment, and education programmes designed to reduce re-offending has been based on research evidence of "What Works". The Home Office Research Studies 171 and 187 (1997, 1998) included literature reviews of what works to reduce re-offending. This research is discussed in detail in What Works: Reducing Reoffending—Guidelines from Research and Practice edited by Dr James McGuire (Wiley: 1995: ISBN 0-471-95686). Much of the research evidence is from North America and meta-analytical studies of generic programme types. Where available, emerging evidence on the effectiveness of the new programmes introduced by the Prison Service has been outlined below.

Drugs Strategy

  200,000 prisoners pass through prison in a year and around 60,000 are estimated to have a drug problem (based on the ONS Psychiatric Morbidity Study, 1997, which found around 50 per cent of remands admitted drug dependency prior to coming to prison). All will receive some form of treatment. The impact will vary depending upon the intensity of the intervention. The drugs strategy includes a range of approaches, ranging from supply reduction to intensive treatment programmes and post release support.

  The Prison Service is planning to ensure that 5,700 treatment places are available in therapeutic communities and similar treatment programmes by March 2004. The Prison Service has estimated a reduction of 15 per cent in reconviction rates may be achieved for the more serious offenders going through such programmes. This is based on the finding of Lipton's CDate Database (international meta-analysis), which found a 16 per cent reduction, and a recent review of four further US/Canadian studies which found an average of 15 per cent). Interim interview and self-report data from offenders in three DTTO pilot sites in this country are generally positive, indicating substantial reductions in both offending and illegal drug consumption. (Turnbull and Hough, 2000), although few seem to give up drugs or offending completely. Overall it is estimated that 25 crimes may be prevented for each reconviction avoided, based on the drug arrest and referral results.

Offending Behaviour Programmes

Cognitive skill programmes10

  The research literature on the effectiveness of cognitive skills programmes suggests a 10-15 percentage point lower reconviction rate compared to similar offenders who did not attend such programmes. It also suggests larger reductions (20 percentage points lower than controls) for programmes which follow effectiveness principles closely and are targeted at high risk offenders (Vennard and Hedderman, 1998). However, evidence also shows that programmes which are not run efficiently and effectively can lead to increased reconviction rates.

  No significant data is available on results in this country yet. The only recent results currently available for 153 inmates who went through unaccredited cognitive skills programmes, in 1993-96. The adjusted one year reconviction rates were 22 per cent for the 46 offenders who completed the Reasoning and Rehabilitation course, and 34 per cent for the 107 completing Thinking Skills (a comparison group had a reconviction rate of 36 per cent). The numbers are too small to be significant but encouraging in relation to R&R (a well-established programme which had been running successfully for some time in Canada). The relatively poor result from TS is put down to its pilot status at that time.

Sex offender treatment programmes11

  Reconviction data is now available for 1,910 offenders who completed an early version of the sex offender treatment programme and have been discharged for two or more years, and has been compared to a comparison group (not a true control group in that the samples are not matched on all relevant factors). The sample though are compared within bands for risk of reconviction for a sexual offence on the basis of static (historical) risk predictor*. The table below shows two year reconviction rates for treated and comparison groups stratified by risk. Because reconvictions for sex offences are very low, the table shows rates violent or sexual offending and all types of re-offending. The treated offenders have lower reconviction rates than the comparison groups.
Low Risk Med-LowMed-High High
Violent or sex reconvictionTreated 1.9%2.7%*5.5% 26%
Comp2.6% 12.7%13.5%28.1%
Any reconvictionTreated 5.7%13.3%21.1% 36%
Comp6.7% 25.3%27.1%38.6%

Basic Literacy and Numeracy

The Prison Service's strategy for improving basic literacy and numeracy skills is aimed at increasing employability and hence reducing the likelihood of re-offending. There is also some evidence that improving basic skills to a level that enables offenders to function more effectively in day to day living may further reduce re-offending. The programme will also help meet the Government's objectives in reducing basic skills deficiencies among the population at large.

  Hollin and Palmer (1995) in their literature review concluded that recent studies suggested that programmes targeted at education for work would be most effective. The latest data from the CDate project (Lipton, 1999) indicates that courses teaching reading skills have an average effect of reducing re-offending by 6 per cent and the best educational based intervention can produce reductions of 14 per cent.

  In this country the effective regimes study analysed the reconviction data for a sample of 284 prisoners who were discharged between 1995-97 after serving sentences of at least 18 months. Prisoners with educational needs at the start of sentence who attended educational courses had reconvictions rates of 32 per cent compared to 40.5 per cent for those with educational needs who did not attend (adjusting to take account of the differences in age and criminal history).

10  Cognitive skills programme

  The information provided at the second paragraph of this section is incorrect.

  The emerging findings, as at October 2000, of an on-going study of offenders who had been on Cognitive Skills Offending Behaviour Programmes (694 offenders) has shown a significant improvement in re-conviction rates among ex-offenders who were assessed as "medium" risk. For this particular group of offenders re-conviction rates were reduced by between 10 and 14 percentage points. Findings for prisoners who were assesssed as low, or high risk whilst showing some improvement were judged not to be statistically significant. (1/2504)

11  Sex Offender Treatment Programme

  The first paragraph of this section should read:

    "Reconviction data is now available for 647 offenders who completed an early version of the sex offender treatment programme and have been discharged for two years or more, and that has been compared with a comparison group of 1,910 offenders. (Whilst not a true control group—as it is not possible within the prisoner population to assign on a truly random basis—every effect has been made to match on relevant factors wherever possible.)" (1/2501)

  On the basis of these findings, the Prison Service assumes at least a 5 per cent reduction in the likelihood of re-offending for each offender received into custody with basic skills deficiences who leaves custody with literacy and numeracy skills at level 2.

Home Office

4 December 2000

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