Policy context of 'Offenders and Nature' schemes

Cover of 'Reducing offending by ex-prisoners' report by the Social Exclusion Unit
“We have to make preventing re-offending the centre of the organisation of our correctional services. We have to make reducing the number of re-offenders the central focus of our policy and practice”
Charles Clarke (then Home Secretary): ‘Where Next for Penal Policy?’ speech to the Prison Reform Trust, September 2005

Re-offending rates

Around 60% of convicted offenders are being re-convicted within two years after completing their prison or community sentence. Re-offending rates for young offenders aged 18-21 and male adolescents (aged 15-18) are particularly high, at 73% and 82% respectively.

The influential Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) report on ‘Reducing Re-offending by Ex-Prisoners’ put the cost to society of re-offending by ex-prisoners at £11billion per year.


The SEU report emphasises the extent to which people with ‘chaotic lives’ and from backgrounds of deprivation fall into crime as a consequence of unemployment and lack of skills and qualifications.  Poor literacy and numeracy skills significantly reduce the chances of many offenders finding employment after release.

Other key factors for re-offending are:

  • Breakdown of family relationships and homelessness
  • Mental health problems
  • Addictions to drugs or alcohol.

Government initiatives

In November 2005, the Home Office launched three ‘Reducing Re-Offending Alliances’ with the Civic Society, Corporate, Faith and Voluntary sectors with the aim of involving a wider range of people and organisations in the reducing re-offending agenda. At the same time a ‘Community Payback’ drive was launched to raise the profile of offenders’ community service work as a restitution to local communities.

'Offenders & Nature' (O&N) projects offer such placements. They have long been a main element in local probation and youth offender community service programmes with a multitude of anecdotal accounts that highlight the schemes’ positive effects.

Motivation of natural environment organisations

Natural environment organisations want as many people as possible to experience, enjoy and benefit from nature. Many of the organisations interested in O&N projects own or manage nature reserves or recreational countryside, and work with a variety of volunteering activities – some motivated by looking after the landscape, others focusing on what education, skills, enjoyment, health or other benefits the volunteers gain from the activity.

Thus, offenders’ community payback schemes form part of a spectrum of environmental voluntary work, and of organisations’ frameworks for managing volunteers.