Britons positive towards prison education but believe it’s ineffective in preventing reoffending

Nearly three quarters of Britons (72 percent) agree increased investment in prison education and training is worthwhile if crime rates fall in the long term, but more than half (55 percent) believe rehabilitation is ineffective in preventing repeat offences, according to a new ComRes poll commission by policy specialists The Whitehouse Consultancy.

The poll also found that nearly two-thirds of Britons (62 percent) agreed that prisoners should be able to access training and education. However, just half of respondents (48 percent) agreed prisoners should be able to study for advance (university level) qualifications, suggesting a willingness to cap opportunities for training and education in prisons.

Half of Britons (51 percent) agreed that prison should be focused on punishment rather than rehabilitation;, although a similar proportion (49 percent) agreed offering prisoners training and education reduces the deterrent from committing crimes.

The findings precede the publication of a review on prison education policy by Justice Secretary Michael Gove, which is expected to revitalise the British prison system, giving individual facilities greater autonomy and establishing league tables for measures of education including literacy and numeracy.

Jack Taylor, Specialist Public Services Consultant at The Whitehouse Consultancy, said:

“Britons clearly expect imprisonment to be a punishment first and foremost. But there is also an understanding of the importance of rehabilitation in the form of training and education. This suggests the public will have sympathy with any plans by the Justice Secretary that increase education opportunities in prisons, if this can be shown to cut reoffending, as there are questions as to how effective rehabilitation methods are at present.

“What is interesting is that while Britons accept the need for education within prisons, there is a clear sense this shouldn’t be unlimited. The fact that only half of respondents agree prisoners should have access to higher level qualification. The public may be less inclined to back the Justice Secretary if his proposals give prison population access to education opportunities out of reach for some sections of society.”

Poll information

  1. To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?
Increased investment in prison education and training programmes is worth it if crime rates fall in the long-term 72% 24% 48% 9% 5% 14%
Rehabilitation is a vital part of the justice process 71% 24% 47% 12% 5% 17%
All prisoners should be able to access opportunities for training and education 62% 18% 44% 16% 8% 25%
Rehabilitation in prisons is generally ineffective at preventing reoffending 55% 19% 36% 19% 6% 25%
Prison should be about punishment not rehabilitation 51% 23% 28% 29% 9% 37%
By offering prisoners training and education, it significantly reduces the deterrent from committing crimes in the first place 49% 13% 36% 21% 11% 32%
Prisoners should have the opportunity to study for advanced (university level) degrees while serving a sentence in prison 48% 14% 34% 21% 16% 37%

Base: All GB adults (n=2,023).

Methodology Note: ComRes interviewed 2023 British adults online between the 16th and 17th March 2016. Data were weighted by age, gender, region and socio-economic grade to be representative of all GB adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.