The concern with reoffending Criminal justice policy over the past three decades has emerged as a central theme in political rhetoric and governance in England and Wales, and within this two elements have constituted the dominant concerns surrounding crime: public protection and reoffending. The concern with public protection has, in part at least, been the result of the rise of the ‘risk society’ and the hegemonic discourse of risk within debates about crime and punishment (see for example: Hudson, 2003; Kemshall, 2003; Kemshall and Maguire, 2001). Risk in criminal justice has been most pervasive in the increased use of risk assessment tools and risk management strategies in policing and penal practice (O’Malley, 1998; Kemshall and Maguire, 2001). Risk in relation to crime more generally can, perhaps, be most readily characterised in terms of individuals’ fear of crime victimisation. While fear of crime may not necessarily reflect actual experiences of crime and victimisation (Farrall et al., 2009), successive governments – encouraged, or perhaps facilitated, by a populist press – have responded with a degree of punitive populism which has seen an inexorable rise in the prison population. Indeed, under New Labour the prison population increased by 33 per cent, from 61,000 in 1997 to almost 85,000 in 2009 (Vanstone, 2010). It could be argued that much of this punitive populism has been directed towards recidivist offenders, as 61 per cent of further offences resulted in a conviction (as opposed to a reprimand, warning or caution) in 2011, compared to only 11 per cent of first offences.1 The concern with punitive populism has not been restricted to an increase in the prison population, community sentences have become more punitive as well, as successive governments have sought to demonstrate a tough approach to the use of probation (Worrall and Hoy, 2005). These concerns resulted, in part at least, from the finding that a small number of offenders were responsible for a large amount of overall crime. Indeed, it has been alleged that ‘in England and Wales, half of all crimes are committed by 10% of offenders’ (Ministry of Justice, 2008a). Criminal justice policy since the early 2000s has been particularly focused upon persistent reoffending (Home Office Communications Directorate, 2004), and a concern with identifying specifically which interventions help to reduce reoffending among persistent offenders (Perry et al., 2009). Thus, the growing concerns around public protection and reoffending
in recent decades have led to the development of a ‘recidivist sentencing premium’ in various Western jurisdictions, whereby individuals are punished more severely for persistent reoffending (Roberts, 2008), and the introduction of various schemes designed to tackle ‘the problem’ of reoffending.2 However, responding to reoffending is hampered, to a certain degree, by uncertainty about the term itself and how best to measure its occurrence. The term may be conflated with reconviction or recidivism, yet this may not be helpful, particularly from a methodological point of view in terms of measuring offending events.