Unlock prison data

I am doing a piece of economic analysis on 2nd Chance—a charity that uses sport to engage with young offenders locked up in prison—and have felt compelled to take up NPC’s cry for government to unlock its data.

2nd Chance uses sports including football, boxing and basketball to work with over 400 young people in Ashfield prison annually, encouraging positive relationships with adult mentors and improving behaviour. Many complete sports-based education courses and are supported on release easing the difficult transition back into the community. Anecdotally 2nd Chance has helped many young people move away from crime. Yet despite this 2nd Chance cannot provide hard evidence of its impact on reoffending.

The UK’s National Offender Management System (NOMS) typically does not let charities access individual data so they can evidence their impact on offending. We think this is bad enough—NOMS needs to figure out how to provide anonymised data. But I have now discovered that even worse, NOMS does not publish group data on the reoffending rates of individual prisons.

For the economic analysis of 2nd Chance I wanted to compare the reoffending of young people when they leave HMP Ashfield before the programme began in 2008, with reoffending since it started. You would expect this kind of basic performance data to be publicly available. Yet even prison heads are unable to access this information.

As a result I am doing a break-even analysis (where you demonstrate the level of success required to justify an investment in the programme). Luckily the economic argument is quite compelling—it costs £60,000 to keep a young person in prison for a year. 2nd Chance at HMP Ashfield costs just £85,000 a year. So they only need to stop just over one person going back into prison to be worth the investment.

But I shouldn’t be doing a break-even analysis. Prison heads should be able to access data on the reoffending of their inmates so they can make informed decisions about what works best with the young people in their care, and buy in the most effective charity interventions.

We all know that prison rarely works and for many young people can be incredibly damaging. If the government is going to continue locking young people up it needs to do the right thing and unlock its data.

This analysis is part of a piece of work funded by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, looking at the economic value of sport to tackle youth crime. There will be a published report in the Autumn.