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The remanding and sentencing of people alleged to have been involved in the riots in England in August 2011 caused the prison population to rise again, before falling back to pre-riot levels. It now stands at around 86,300 (below the record high of 88,179 on 2 December 2011). That surge in the prison population made the debate about prison and whether it “works” all the more urgent.

Evidently, while they are in prison, offenders cannot commit further offences in the community, but what happens when they are released? Are they less likely to reoffend? Does prison help offenders to “go straight”? If not, what might? Is prison, in fact, an expensive way of making bad people worse?

This paper examines the evidence for the effectiveness of prison and programmes in the community aimed at reducing reoffending and some of the claims and counter-claims for whether “prison works”.


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