Does re-offending cost £13 billion a year?

Published: 8th Feb 2016

In brief


Re-offending costs up to £13 billion a year.


This estimate is uncertain and old. It originated in 2000 and has been inflated since then to account for price increases and changes in levels of crime. The researchers themselves say estimating these costs is "inevitably imprecise".

“This failure really matters. It matters to the public purse: this cycle of reoffending costs up to £13 billion a year.”

David Cameron, 8 February 2016

This figure comes from a National Audit Office (NAO) study in 2010. Back then the NAO estimated re-offending by recent ex-prisoners cost the economy between £9.5 and £13 billion in 2007/08.

This is a hugely uncertain figure. Versions of it date back to estimates by the Home Office in 2000 who called the practice of estimating the cost of crime “inevitably imprecise”. They suggested the cost of crime to society in England and Wales was around £60 billion, and it was later estimated 18% of this was because of re-offending by recent prisoners. That gave birth to the figures which have since been built upon to reach the figures we hear today.

It’s not difficult to see why it’s uncertain either. As the original researchers admit, it’s not at all easy to work out how much a crime costs society as a whole, and how you’d compare the costs of murder to wounding, or theft, or burglary. Even then, we don’t even have precise estimates of what crimes are even happening.

So we can’t place much confidence, at this stage, in a figure so old and uncertain.


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