Clarke considers plan for prison league tables: Home Office to rate effectiveness of jails in rehabilitating offenders

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LEAGUE TABLES for prisons, to rate their effectiveness in preventing inmates reoffending, are being considered by the Home Office.

Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, wants to know how many prisoners 'go straight' after leaving different kinds of prison. The figures will help him to judge what kind of jails have the best results in rehabilitating prisoners.

He told prison reformers this week that while improving prison conditions was worthwhile on humanitarian grounds, he also believed more 'civilised' regimes had more success in rehabilitating prisoners.

Mr Clarke wants to develop performance indicators for rehabilitation rates - as well as ones for escapes, assaults, overcrowding, access to sanitation and visits - but the right methodology for using the statistics is not yet available.

A Home Office spokeswoman said that it would be wrong to simply compare prison to prison, since those housing serious criminals would have better figures than those for prisons with lesser, repeat offenders.

The figures could be used to compare the success according to different offences or within types of prisons. She said the Home Secretary had made 'a statement of intent' about gathering figures, but the possibility of publishing league tables was 'some way off'.

The Home Office has never had a full breakdown of rehabilitation rates. Insiders say the scope of detailed statistics is less now than in the 1950s, when figures were more comprehensive. Their most recent figures are estimates based on samples of inmates released in the mid-1980s. They show that half of males released are reconvicted within two years; among young males it reaches 62 per cent of those aged 17 to 20, and 80 per cent of 15 to 16-year-olds.

Many believe that within the prison system the success rate will vary greatly between different prisons and different styles of regime. When Wandsworth jail in south London changed its regime style earlier this year, governors said that a less harsh regime was more likely to help prisoners avoid reoffending.

Stephen Shaw, of the Prison Reform Trust, welcomed the move. One of the benefits would be to show the progress of an individual prison from year to year, he said. 'The public interest is clearly not served by more than half of prisoners leaving prison only to reoffend. It's in society's interest to do something positive with this captive audience.'