Managing offenders on short custodial sentences: report by the Comptroller and Auditor General

SCIE Social Care Online
National Audit Office
Publication date:
01 January 2010


Over 60,000 adults per year receive custodial sentences of less than 12 months. On any given day they make up around 9% of all prisoners but account for some 65% of all sentenced admissions and releases. This report examines the management of these prisoners by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), including how well it assesses and meets prisoners’ practical needs and how well it addresses their offending behaviour. Study methods included a survey of 91 prisons, visits to 7 prisons, prisoner interviews and focus groups, interviews with NOMS and departmental staff, and analysis of departmental data. The report concludes that although short-sentenced prisoners are kept secure, safe and well, the provision of daytime activity for them is generally inadequate, partly because of overcrowding and constraints of physical space.  Despite the cycle of re-offending, the National Audit Office (NAO) found that one half of short-sentenced prisoners are not involved in work or courses and spend almost all day in their cells. Only a small proportion of prison budgets are spent on activities intended to reduce re-offending by prisoners on short sentences, despite the fact that 60 per cent of such prisoners are reconvicted within a year of release, at an estimated economic and social cost of £7 billion to £10 billion a year. The NAO argues that NOMS could achieve greater value for money by improving prisons' work with these offenders.