Audit Scotland, the public spending watchdog, reported this month that reoffending rates have changed little in the country over the last 15 years.
In 1997/98, 32 per cent of offenders were reconvicted within one year and by 2010/11, that level had reduced by just two points, to 30 per cent.
Depressingly, the report stated that there is a “mismatch between what is currently being delivered and what is known to be effective” in terms of reoffending.
That means, basically, we are knowingly spending money on services that achieve less than satisfactory outcomes.
What is that definition of insanity again?
Something along the lines of: “continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
Perhaps this quotation should be printed daily in national newspapers or broadcast on television and beamed into our living rooms on a continuous loop, until we emerge from our collective fug and realise what actually works (and more to the point what does not) in our penal system.
Are we blindly ignoring the fact that imprisonment, at least in the short term, is likely to result in an increased burden on society in terms of reoffending rates? That is according to Scottish Government data that tells us offenders who receive community-based punishments are less likely to be reconvicted than those who are locked up.
But Dr Richard Simpson, a former Deputy Justice Minister, recently pointed out the flaws in that possibly erroneous assumption in an email to Holyrood.
He wrote: “It is not appropriate to constrain sheriffs from passing short sentences. It is also poor and simplistic science to suggest that because the outcomes of the Community [Service] Orders are so much better than short custodial orders the two can be directly compared. Those receiving CSOs may be a different population to those receiving custody.” Dr Simpson is perhaps right and the Scottish Government should maybe analyse its data more thoroughly to see precisely whether it is possible to make comparisons based on, say, type of offence or offender.
The Mid Scotland and Fife MSP also came up with some interesting ideas to tackle reoffending rates more generally, such as extending the Drug Treatment and Testing Orders to include alcohol as well.
Scotland faces tough choices with cuts to public spending but the Audit Scotland report makes the compelling case that the money we do have is being potentially spent unwisely.
The nation currently spends an estimated £128m on services to reduce reoffending and £254m on restricting the liberty of offenders. That means we shell out more than double on locking people up than we do on trying to prevent them from reoffending in the first place.