Should people who commit a criminal offence be punished or rehabilitated? It is a question often asked of judicial systems around the world. So how does the UK compare to other countries?

If you have been accused of a criminal offence, please contact us at Ashmans Solicitors. We specialise in defence law and can help you further. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Rehabilitation of offenders in the UK

Rehabilitation is the process of re-educating and retraining those who commit crime.

In the UK, the government recognises that rehabilitation has a role to play in the justice system. This has not always been the case, with one former director-general of the Prison Service saying that rehabilitation of offenders in jail does not work and should be scrapped.

Even so, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act was passed in 1974. This stipulates that once a conviction is ‘spent’ (meaning a certain amount of time has passed) then you do not have to disclose that conviction or caution when applying for most jobs, or buying insurance. This is an enormous help to past offenders, who might otherwise struggle to secure employment following their release from prison. This perpetuates the problem, potentially drawing the individual back to a criminal lifestyle.

It has recently been proposed that the Act should go even further, reducing the amount of time it takes for a conviction to be spent.

UK vs the USA

The USA, on the other hand, favours punishment. The UK imprisons around 140 people per 100,000 of the population. In the USA, this figure is over 700 people per 100,000 of the population. This might suggest that the UK is a leading advocate of the rehabilitation model. But actually, the rates of imprisonment in the UK are the highest in Europe. They far surpass those in the Scandinavian countries, which are well below 100 people per 100,000.

UK vs Norway

Scandinavia has a strong focus on the rehabilitation of offenders. This has been very successful, with reoffending rates in Norway standing at 25% in five years, as opposed to 50% within just one year in the UK.

Even in Norway’s high security prisons – such as Halden Prison – the way of doing things is very different. The philosophy is to normalise life in prison by providing a daily routine and ensuring family contact. There is a lower level of violence and a higher ratio of officers to prisoners who participate in activities together. Cells are more homely, and the prison is designed to minimise the sense of incarceration. The idea is that the restriction of liberty is punishment enough.

Of course, this comes with a price tag. A prison place in the UK costs around £40,000 per inmate per year. In Norway, a prison place can cost double that. There are additional costs too. For instance, prison officers in Norway are subject to two to three years of training compared to 12 weeks in the UK. During this time, Norwegian trainees study an extensive curriculum, including law, ethics, criminology, reintegration and social work.

Could the UK follow suit?

Changes have been made at HMP Ford in West Sussex, which is an open prison. New accommodation pods have been installed in the facility, with a living area, bed, desk, toilet and shower unit. Residents will have their own door key, use of a kitchenette, telephone room and laundry. Because it is a category D prison, it is the last step before an individual is released, making sense for the accommodation to encourage a higher level of independence.

Despite this, it is very unlikely that the UK will go the extent that Norway has, particularly in relation to high security prisons. Nevertheless, more emphasis is being given to the rehabilitation of offenders in the UK. If we feel that you would benefit from a rehabilitation scheme – be it for alcohol use, domestic abuse or something else – we can recommend this to the judge in your case. Your willingness to undergo rehabilitation may be viewed as a mitigating factor, which may persuade the court to show leniency during sentencing.

Is Rehabilitation The Answer

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