Roads to recovery

Think tank: Social Market Foundation

Author(s): Jake Shepherd; Niamh O Regan

November 30, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Social Market Foundation looks at exploring prison rehabilitation and its alternatives.

One of the primary purposes of the UK prison system is to facilitate offender rehabilitation. However, inadequate support and high reoffending rates mean it may be failing to live up to that ideal. Drawing upon lessons from the Netherlands and Norway, this Social Market Foundation briefing highlights the potential benefits of alternative approaches to rehabilitation.

UK prisons face several challenges, including a rising prisoner population and reports of understaffing, overcrowded facilities and inadequate services. This has led experts to call for penal reform, placing stronger emphasis on rehabilitation and resocialisation. Rehabilitation is already a core aim of the UK prison system, but it appears to be falling short. The majority of prisoners lack work and training opportunities, and 53% of prisoners are in their cell for more than 22 hours a day – rising to 69% during weekends. Reoffending – 39% within the first year of release and 75% within nine years – amounts to £18.1 billion in economic and social costs every year.

Other countries can provide valuable insights into improving incarceration and rehabilitation in prisons. The Norwegian approach actively encourages inmates to lead a fulfilling life after their time in prison, and reforms have led to a dramatic decrease in reoffending rates. The Netherlands offers specialist mental health treatment and has allocated greater prison resources to rehabilitation. Changes in the justice system have led to less reoffending, a significantly smaller prison population, and fewer prisons.