New research: Education reduces reoffending

9 Jan 2014

New Government research published today proves that studying a wide range of courses in prison makes people less likely to reoffend when released.

The rigorous report sampled over 3,000 prisoners who had been funded by the charity PET to study distance learning courses in prison and found a reduction in reoffending when compared with similar prisoners.

The results are published by the Ministry of Justice’s Data Lab alongside analysis of the effectiveness of several organisations and PET is the only intervention exclusively in custody shown to have had a statistically significant reduction.

Figures show that the one-year reoffending rate for prisoners who received PET’s support was over a quarter lower at 19% compared to 26% for the matched group; and the average frequency of proven one year re-offences was 0.5 per individual compared to 0.8 for the matched group, a reduction of almost two fifths.

The report states:

“This analysis shows that participating in an intervention provided by PET led to a reduction in re-offending of between 5 and 8 percentage points.” 

Rod Clark, PET Chief Executive, said:

“With 25 years’ experience of helping prisoners to change their lives through education, our charity and our funders know that learning in prison works – but now we have the evidence to prove it with this robust, hard-edged report carried out by MoJ statisticians.

“The Government has repeatedly said that it will back what works to reduce reoffending and this research makes a strong case for more effort to support prison education.

“A reduction of five to eight percentage points may not sound like much but with the cost of crime committed by repeat offenders estimated at up to £13bn it makes a huge difference both to society and victims. Courses we fund typically cost approximately £250 a piece, which is a minor amount when set against nearly £37,000* in the annual average costs of a prison place.

“Giving prisoners opportunities to use their time constructively in prison to develop their thinking and employment skills through self-directed learning is vital if we want to stop people falling back into a life of crime when they leave. 

“With the right support from the prison system and with a bit of extra money we could do a whole lot more to reduce crime and prevent people from becoming victims.”

Statisticians researched whether the group had reoffended in the year after release and if so, what the frequency of their offending was using data from the Police National Computer. This was then compared with a group who were not supported by the charity, but have the same overall characteristics.

The report’s sample included people funded by PET to study different courses ranging from Open University degrees to vocational courses and recipients of art and hobby materials. Specific analysis for some of these course groups demonstrates conclusively that Open University courses, creative learning and some further education all had a positive effect in reducing reoffending.

Editor's notes

For interview requests, photos or further information please contact Susannah Henty, Media Manager,; 020 8648 7760

The research

This report was carried out by the MoJ Justice Data Lab. This initiative was launched by the Government to help identify the effectiveness of voluntary and community sector initiatives in reducing reoffending.  So far, of the other 19 interventions that took place exclusively in custody investigated by the Justice Data Lab none have demonstrated statistically significant reductions in reoffending.


*According to MoJ statistics, the average cost of a prison place in 2012/13 was £36,808.

National proven reoffending rates show that 46.4 %  of adults are reconvicted within one year of being released. For those serving sentences of less than 12 months this increases to 58.1 %. See MoJ report for full information.

The re-offending rates included in the analysis of PET’s work should not be compared to the national average, nor any other reports or publications which include re-offending rates – including those assessing the impact of other interventions. The re-offending rates included in today’s report are specific to the characteristics of those persons who received a service from PET and could be matched. Any other comparison would not be comparing like for like. 

About PET

This year Prisoners' Education Trust (PET) celebrates its 25th anniversary. The charity was set up in HMP Wandsworth by a prison teacher and a barrister in 1989 who wanted to offer a wider range of courses to prisoners. That year, PET helped 12 people, now the charity supports approx. 2,000 each year to study distance learning courses across England and Wales. The charity does this by providing advice and funding for prisoners keen to study subjects and levels not generally available in prisons. PET also carries out research, informed by prisoner learners, to improve prison education.

In 2012 PET launched the Prisoner Learning Alliance to work together with 18 other expert organisations to champion learning for people in prison.