A criminal waste?

Work with offenders looks at a new study of multiple disadvantage, offending and system failure

A new report, A Criminal Waste, explores the issue of people offending whilst receiving support from the Fulfilling Lives programme, examining the links between multiple disadvantage and offending and making recommendations for a whole system approach to reduce the human and financial costs of involvement with the criminal justice sector. 

Fulfilling lives 

The Fulfilling Lives programme is a huge National Lottery Community Fund programme involving £112 million investment over eight years supporting people who are experiencing multiple disadvantage. The programme funds local partnerships in 12 areas across England to test new ways of ensuring individuals receive joined up and person centred services which work for them.

The local partnerships work with beneficiaries, service providers and commissioners, and local authorities to design, test and implement different approaches which:

  • Provide learning which can be used to create system change
  • Address the combination of factors that can affect the person, in a way that is simple and straightforward for individuals to navigate, with a single access point
  • Assume that people can improve their own circumstances and life chances with the right support
  • Engage people with first-hand experience of multiple disadvantage in the design and delivery of services
  • Provide better co-ordination between those delivering services (both statutory and voluntary sector) and those commissioning services.

The research analyses Fulfilling Lives programmes’ data in three areas (Newcastle & Gateshead, Nottingham and West Yorkshire) to look at the demographic profile of people who offended while being supported by Fulfilling Lives, the types of offences they committed and the potential reasons and challenges that increased the risk of offending.     

Based on a sample group of 181 people with a deep dive analysis into the lives of twelve people prior to an arrest, the study found that: 

  • More women were arrested than men. 
  • The most common type of offence was “breach of legal obligations” such as probation appointments – especially amongst women. The second most common offence was theft which had equal prevalence among both genders, followed by anti-social behaviour, assault, and carrying an offensive weapon which had high prevalence amongst men.  
  • Issues associated with arrest included substance use as motivation for theft, unsuitable accommodation or homelessness, financial hardship, mental ill health acting as a barrier to accessing other parts of the system, domestic abuse, loss of friends or family, disengagement from projects and the “normalisation” of crime in people’s communities.  
  • Women and people from BAME communities faced additional challenges, arising out of systemic inequalities and insufficiently culturally and gender responsive services. 
  • People can fall into the dual role of both offender and victim of crime with little attempt to understand or acknowledge the overlap between these roles across the system. 

Perhaps the most interesting finding is that, for women in particular, the fact of being on probation supervision resulted in more, rather than less, legal difficulties. The change in legislation in 2015 to require all people serving prison sentences to be subject to statutory supervision on release has resulted in many thousands of people (more than 8,000 in 2020) being recalled to prison.

Recommendations for change 

The report proposes twelve recommendations for change underpinning a whole systems trauma-informed approach that includes: 

  • Promoting community-based services and out of court disposal which seek to address the underlying factors linked to offending as an alternative to custody. 
  • Providing support to sustain accommodation and expand trauma-informed housing support. 
  • Tailoring provision to improve access to and experiences of services for people from specific demographic groups such as minority ethnic communities and women. 
  • Providing training for criminal justice system staff to understand trauma-informed practice.    
  • Widening access to mental health and wellbeing support, especially psychotherapeutic interventions for people with multiple needs, particularly where there is co-occurrence with substance use.  
  • Improving understanding around the duality of being both victim and offender. 
  • Promoting access to peer mentoring and support for people experiencing multiple disadvantage.  

Interested readers can read the full report here.