Professor Del Roy Fletcher introduces his briefing paper on conditionality and offending:
Offenders have traditionally been subjected to sanctions and support in the criminal justice system to promote behavioural change. This approach is increasingly defining their experience of the benefits system. Successive UK governments have sought to help offenders into work as a means of reducing the high rates of re-offending. This has extended the active welfare state into the criminal justice system and led to a close alignment of welfare and criminal justice policies (see DWP and MOJ Joint Strategic Review of Offender Employment Services). It is in this context that offenders have been targeted for specific behavioural measures and this is the focus of the next in our series of briefing papers.
There is an increasing recognition of the need to consider the multiple relationships between punishment and welfare. Drawing on US experience Wacquant (2009) argues that increasingly harsh social policies (workfare) and penal policies (prison-fare) work together to control marginal populations and push them into peripheral sections of the labour market. In the UK additional support has been provided to offenders e.g. through making Work Programme employment support available from ‘day one’ of release and extending statutory support to short-sentenced prisoners. However, these apparently rehabilitative measures risk increasing the sanctioning of offenders and may speed up the revolving door of prison, breach and recall back into custody.
Offenders have not until recently figured prominently in debates about the role of sanctions and support in the welfare system. However, a landmark Government data sharing project in 2011 has revealed that a substantial proportion of claims for out-of-work benefits in England and Wales were made by offenders. Sanctioning has been justified as a means of ensuring that individuals take up the available support. However, offenders often have multiple and complex needs including unemployment, homelessness, drug/alcohol problems, mental health needs and learning disabilities which make it more difficult for individuals to engage with support. Some may not fully understand their responsibilities or may have a diminished capacity for rational behaviour. Concerns have also been expressed that conditionality may exacerbate vulnerability and risks harming ‘third parties’ such as children; may propel individuals away from the benefits system and raise crime rates.
The future stages of our research will investigate further, and establish empirical evidence about, many of the key debates highlighted above. These include the extent to which dominant justifications underpinning increased welfare conditionality reflect the ‘lived reality’ of offender lives; the extent to which the threat of sanctions influences the propensity of individuals to engage with support; the relative balance of support and sanctions experienced by individuals and the way in which they interact; and the relationship between punishment and welfare.
Del Roy Fletcher, October 2014