Letter: Reconviction: scientific methodology vs empirical experience

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The Independent Online
From Dr Gerard Bates

Sir: Probation services work to reduce crime by the careful assessment of the risk of re-offending and the implementation of community-based programmes, designed to address the root causes of criminal behaviour. The Home Office "Offender Group Reconviction Scale" can only serve as a harmful distraction in this process.

The real, though hidden, purpose of this complex mathematical puzzle, designed to predict risk of reconviction, is not to assist individual officers of the court, but rather to assess the performance of probation services. The Home Office three-year plan for the probation service 1995- 1998 acknowledges that "there are problems in setting targets for reconviction rates " but, nonetheless, confirms that a key performance indicator will be established to demonstrate that actual reconviction is maintained "at a rate lower than predicted". No doubt, league tables for probation service performance will follow, comparing the actual reconviction rates for offenders who have been under supervision with the rate predicted by Professor Copas's scale.

Probation officers' assessments of the risk of re-offending (not just reconviction) are based upon their professional training and practical work experience; their knowledge of relevant social circumstances, including employment, training and accommodation resources, alcohol and drug abuse problems and their overall ability to re-educate offenders away from the sort of attitudes that lead to the choice being made to commit an offence. Many factors within wider society impact on the likely success rate of probation officers' work, not least the amount of community support available to the service in its efforts. Will this risk-of-reconviction scale be of much help? I think not.

Yours sincerely,

Gerard Bates

Assistant Chief Officer

South Glamorgan Probation


25 July