Government research finds prisoners aspiring to education re-offend less on release

10 Sep 2015

New research published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) today (10th September 2015) suggests that offering people in prison opportunities to aspire to further their education makes them less likely to re-offend on release.

The Justice Data Lab report analyses data comparing people funded by Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) to study in prison and a matched control group. It showed that PET’s beneficiaries re-offended a quarter less than the control group (18% compared to 25% - a reduction of between 6 and 8 percentage points). This result confirms the findings of an earlier report last year.

The latest analysis using a larger sample of nearly 6,000 prisoner records also re-confirms the previous findings, showing a reduction in re-offending by people who studied courses ranging from academic, vocational, degree-level modules, and recipients of art materials. Following inconclusive results in the first report, today’s research shows a ‘statistically significant’ result for accredited learning courses such as GCSEs, A-levels and NVQs.

PET also provided researchers with a smaller sample of prisoners who had applied for the charity’s limited funding and had been turned down. These prisoners also demonstrated a significant reduction in offending after prison, compared to matched control groups of similar prisoners who had not applied for help from PET. These results suggest that prisoners who aspire to change their lives through education and pursue the process of putting an application together to PET are more successful in moving away from crime. The importance of providing hope and aspiration for people in prison has also been highlighted by academics researching criminal ‘desistance’.

Rod Clark, Chief Executive of Prisoners’ Education Trust, said:

“These are very exciting results that give us greater insight into how and why our work is so important in changing prisoners’ lives. And it is not just about the statistics, we know from the many successful ex-prisoners we are still in touch with that education has given them new careers enabling them to contribute positively to society and their families.

“Prisoners who aspire to take advantage of the support PET offers to change their lives through education are less likely to reoffend.

"And, at just a few hundred pounds, the support we offer is excellent value for money, compared with the £36,000 annual cost per prisoner and the annual cost of crime from reoffending estimated as up to £13bn.

“This report provides further evidence of the power of educational aspiration in custody and supports the research of academics such as Fergus McNeil which highlights the importance of building and sustaining hope for prisoners. As the government launches the Coates review into prison education, this is a pivotal moment to build on the power of educational aspiration to reduce crime.”

Editor's Notes

The MoJ research matched the records of 5,846 recipients of PET help with information on their subsequent reoffending from the Police National Computer under a scheme known as the Justice Data Lab. The Justice Data Lab team compared their reoffending with the records of 336,681 prisoners who had matched characteristics but had not received help. Read a full report of the analysis.

Relevant qualitative research on the importance of providing people in prison with hope and aspiration have been carried out by desistance theorists Emma Hughes, ‘Education in Prison, Studying through distance learning’, 2012, Anne Pike and Fergus McNeil.

For interviews or further information from PET please contact Susannah Henty (PET), Media Manager:; 020 8648 7760 or visit

About PET

Since 1989, Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) has supported prisoners to engage in rehabilitation through learning. The charity does this by providing advice and funding for approximately 2,000 people per year for distance learning courses in subjects and levels not generally available in prisons. PET also carries out research, informed by prisoner learners, to improve prison education policies. PET is committed to furthering the research into education in prison and is currently joint-funding a PhD student with Royal Holloway University to explore the qualitative impact of distance learning in prisons.

In 2012 PET launched the Prisoner Learning Alliance to work together with other expert organisations to champion learning for people in prison. Rod Clark, Chief Executive of PET, is a member of the expert panel for the review of prison education by Dame Sally Coates announced by the Secretary of State for Justice at: Statement to Parliament: Education in prison