Jail 'fails to deter young offenders'

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FOUR out of five young offenders are being convicted of new crimes within four years of leaving jail, new statistics revealed yesterday.

A Home Office study published yesterday, Prison Statistics - England and Wales 1992, also shows that nearly 70 per cent of all prisoners re- offend within four years. The new figures will provide further ammunition for penal reformers who have attacked the assertion by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, that 'prison works'.

The results of a survey of more than 65,000 offenders show a far higher reconviction rate than was previously thought.

The study found that 82 per cent of male young offenders - aged from 15 to 20 when sentenced - were convicted of at least one crime within four years of their release. This was an 11 per cent rise from previous surveys that only examined the rates after two years. The reconviction level for boys aged 15 and 16 after four years rose to more than nine out of 10.

About six out of 10 female young offenders - who make up a tiny proportion of the penal population - are reconvicted within four years.

Sixty per cent of adult males are reconvicted of at least one crime within four years of leaving prison - an 11 per cent increase on the rate after two years. About a quarter of the people reconvicted were given a further prison sentence.

Last October, Mr Howard told the Conservative Party conference: 'Let us be clear. Prison works. It ensures that we are protected from murderers, muggers and rapists, and it makes many who are tempted to commit crime think twice.'

Stephen Shaw, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said yesterday: 'These figures are very strong evidence that any assertion that prison works as a way of keeping people out of crime is clearly wrong.'

Some of the most frequent offences committed by former adult male prisoners were robbery, theft and sex crimes.