Scottish reoffending rates have hit a 19-year low thanks to rehab schemes

The Violence Reduction Unit has helped stop offenders returning to prison – but the UK is still banging up more people than anywhere in western Europe

The number of criminals in Scotland who reoffend after being released from prison has hit a 19-year low – with figures continuing to drop below England and Wales.

The report issued by Scotland’s Chief Statistician also revealed that community payback orders (CPOs), which usually involve unpaid community work, more effectively end a cycle of reoffending than prison time does. Scotland’s reoffending rate dropped from 32.4 per cent in 2006/7 to 27 per cent in 2015/16. The average number of reconvictions per offender also fell by 22 per cent. Conversely, nearly half of people with past convictions in England and Wales reoffend within twelve months. The prison population has risen by 82 per cent in the past 30 years. The highest imprisonment rate in Europe is found here, at 145 per 100,000 people (Scotland comes second at 138).

Scotland has introduced schemes like the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) to carry out rehabilitation work with ex-offenders in an attempt to reduce reoffending. Another endeavor is Street & Arrow, a Glasgow-based social enterprise serving high-quality street food and employing people recently released from custodial sentences. The programme, which features mentoring and round-the-clock support, has a 100 per cent success rate in preventing reoffending.

Niven Rennie, VRU director, said: “A 22 per cent reduction in the rate of reconvictions over the last decade shows we’re on the right path, but every crime comes at a cost to society and individuals so we must continue to follow the evidence of what works. Prevention is better than cure and Scotland is leading the world in its public health approach to violence by treating it as a disease which can be cured.

Scotland’s justice secretary Humza Yousaf said: “Scotland has continued to reduce the number of people who reoffend, implementing a clear focus on rehabilitation, working alongside partners in local government, the third sector and Scottish Prison Service, to help many people with convictions turn their lives around.

Big Issue founder Lord Bird, who has spoken openly about his own stint in prison as a youth, led a short debate on the safety of prisons yesterday in the wake of the HMP Birmingham crisis.

He told the House of Lords: “What do we do with our young men and young women, our children, who fall by the wayside and get involved in crime and wrongdoing? In a civilised society, you do not just bang them up. If it was just about banging people up, we would have the best record in western Europe. We have a lot of people banged up— more than anywhere else in western Europe. An eye for an eye does work in certain circumstances. But then you’ve got an even bigger problem because the person goes in bad and comes out worse.”

Lord Bird added: “We need not just a few clever little tricks; we need to rethink crime. We need to rethink prisons as opportunities for transforming naughty boys like me, who may even end up in the House of Lords.”