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The benefit and cost of prison in the UK: the results of a model of lifetime re-offending

Marsh, Kevin and Fox, Chris (2008) The benefit and cost of prison in the UK: the results of a model of lifetime re-offending. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 4 (4). pp. 403-423. ISSN 1572-8315

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Abstract

With prisons in the UK reaching full capacity, and with similar trends in other European countries and the USA, there is much political debate about the efficacy of prison and community sentences. This paper aims to inform this debate by testing the hypothesis that prisons are an effective and efficient way of reducing re-offending. A rapid review of effectiveness studies was performed to determine the relative impact of prison and community sentences on re-offending. An economic analysis was undertaken to transform the estimates of effect into estimates of the economic efficiency of alternative sentencing options in the context of the UK. When compared with standard prison sentences, a number of community-based interventions and enhancements of standard prison sentences were found to save money, both for the public sector and for society more broadly. Diverting adult offenders from standard prison sentences to alternative interventions saves the UK public sector between £19,000 and £88,000 per offender. When victim costs are considered, diverting offenders from standard prison sentences saves UK society between £17,500 and £203,000 per offender. It was concluded that standard prison sentences are not an economically efficient means for reducing re-offending.

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