Persistent and prolific offenders are of great concern to any government because of the disproportionate amount of crime they account for, but little is known about which interventions are effective in reducing offending behaviour. A Rapid Evidence Assessment was conducted to systematically review the UK and international literature to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions for persistent and prolific offenders in reducing re-offending behaviour.
The review, conducted by the Centre for Criminal Justice Economics and Psychology and the EPPI Centre and funded by the Ministry of Justice, addressed one key question:
Do criminal justice interventions for persistent/prolific offenders lead to a reduction in offending?
What did we find?
42 studies were identified that specifically described offenders as being prolific, persistent or chronic. These 42 studies reported 30 evaluations of which 20 were included in a series of meta-analyses.
The results of the meta-analyses were interpreted as finding the following:
- Positive evidence that structured therapeutic community interventions for drug users in prisons and drug treatments (including drug courts) in the community produced a greater reduction in offending behaviour than standard treatment.
- Potential evidence that cognitive skills courses in prison and the community produced a greater reduction in offending behaviour than standard treatment.
- Insufficient evidence about the effects of other types of interventions (e.g. case management and differing levels of supervision practice in the probation service) on offending behaviour.
- Insufficient evidence to conduct a statistical analysis of the evidence of the duration of treatment effect.
- The majority of the studies (85%) were rated as having either moderate or low methodological quality.
What are the implications?
A number of implications can be drawn from this research. The overall results of this REA suggest that some interventions for persistent and prolific offenders do reduce offending behaviour. More specifically, positive effects in reducing offending behaviour were shown with in-prison therapeutic communities and drug treatment programmes in the community.
It is worth noting that therapeutic community interventions tend to provide the longest form of treatment which is likely to impact on the success of the treatment. Cognitive skills programmes showed some potential effects but the low methodological quality of these studies allows one to draw limited conclusions. A number of studies demonstrated insufficient evidence on which to base conclusions (e.g. supervision practices in the probation service).
This REA searched for evidence in fewer sources than would usually be the case for a full systematic review. This means that there is a greater possibility that not all relevant studies will have been identified and therefore bias maybe introduced into the review. As a result, the conclusions from an REA should be considered as provisional in the absence of conducting a full systematic review.
If you would like any further information on the project please contact:
Centre for Criminal Justice Economics and Psychology
University of York
Telephone: +44 (01904) 43 48 80
This REA should be cited as:
Perry AE, Newman M, Hallam G, Johnson M, Sinclair J, Bowles R (2009) Rapid evidence assessment of the evidence on the effectiveness of interventions with persistent/prolific offenders in reducing re-offending. Ministry of Justice Research Series 12/09. ISBN: 978-1-84099-301-1
A copy of the full report can be downloaded from the website:
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