Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Statistics - Do they just make them up? Part One

One of the advantages of spending an unhealthy proportion of your life absorbing information about the criminal justice system is you can often spot the origins of statistics that appear out of no way.  Two examples:

Yesterday the Government issued a press release announcing "Government is tackling homelessness to stop the revolving door of re-offending".  Reading through this rather poor attempt to spin (failing) policies inherited from the previous Government I came across this claim:
Getting ex-prisoners into stable homes could reduce re-offending rates by as much as a fifth.

This claim normally phrased as "almost 20 per cent" can be found in almost any document about the accommodation of homeless ex-prisoners. But where does it come from? 

Whilst in the last 5 or 6 years I have never seen this claim referenced it was footnoted in the 2004 Home Office publication "Reducing Re-offending: National Action Plan" which identified the source as
HO OAsys pilot study, 2001 (unpublished). Data only covered 1 year after release and studied those with severe accommodation problems.
So a small unrepresentative survey, not worth publishing, is nearly ten years later the evidence base that is being relied upon.

Even more interesting is that whilst there is considerable evidence that housing is a key factor in allowing ex-prisoners to escape the criminal justice system the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice have not commissioned the research to provide an adequate evidence base on which to base policy.

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