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Ex-Prisoners

Volume 405: debated on Thursday 22 May 2003

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7.

What steps are being taken to prevent those who leave prison from committing drug-related offences.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

Offenders who have misused drugs need access to a wide range of support on leaving prison. That may include treatment for drug dependency, but equally important is assistance with housing, employment and life skills such as literacy. The key to delivering that support is effective links between prisons and agencies that operate in the community. With significant new money having been made available, we are working to improve those links, for example by building single points of contact in drug action teams in the 25 DAT areas in the country with the highest levels of acquisitive crime.

My hon. Friend knows of the high-achieving track record in reducing crime of our community safety partnership, which has existed for a long time—it was one of the first in the country. Operation Trident drove some crack cocaine dealers out of London. Sadly, they came to Plymouth, and crime has started to rise again there. Does he understand the frustration experienced by its police division? It is so innovative in tackling such matters, some 600 former prisoners have come back to Plymouth in the last year. Some Government programmes are working well, but the final piece of the jigsaw that we need in Plymouth to help former prisoners in the way that he describes does not exist.

Does the Minister agree that bringing to Plymouth a programme such as the one he has mentioned would be a wise investment, as it would provide best value for the money spent in prisons? Will he give his colleague sitting to his left, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, a nudge over supporting our invest to save round 6 bid this year, so that we can get best value for money from all the magnificent programmes that the Government have been implementing to tackle drugs in our cities?

In fairness to my colleague to my left, there is significant new money in the updated drugs strategy. The biggest single gap that we identified in that programme was the need for us to provide schemes such as those in which Plymouth has been leading the way—for example, joined-up working with drug offenders. We are determined not only to provide both the link for those coming out of prison and the correct connections with community services and treatment, but to reach a position in the 30 basic command units where we have a handling strategy for drug offenders or drug addicts whereby we can pass on all the relevant information. We do not want them to fall between the grating and become lost if they refuse treatment and offend. We want to pick them up, so that we can continue to make progress.

I am most interested by what the Minister says. Can he bring us up to date about the progress being made with the prospects pilots that are under way for short-term prisoners? He has touched only on the period when people have left prison. Given the tremendous progress in the United States, where there has been a 15 per cent. reduction in misuse, can the Home Office Minister explain why there is still no comprehensive programme in prisons in this country? On what date does he expect to implement one?

There is a comprehensive system in prisons. Neither the Prison Service nor I pretend that it can deal with every single prisoner with a drug problem, but there has been considerable growth in the provision available. There is a joined-up system called CARATs—the Counselling, Assessment, Referral, Advice and Throughcare scheme—which provides an assessment at the start and then access to various treatments. It also provides through-care for people leaving prison.

One of our biggest problems is the huge number of drug offenders in prison who are serving short sentences. Due to the offences that they commit, such as shoplifting, they are released from prison quickly, although they are not out on licence. Changes to the updated drugs strategy should plug that gap in provision, and changes that we are making through the Criminal Justice Bill will plug some gaps in the justice system, so we can help to monitor prisoners when they are released back into the community and try to prevent them from reoffending.

Given that figures show that two in three people who are arrested have taken one or more illegal drug, is it Government policy that, on release from prison, everybody with a known history of drug use should have an immediate referral to somebody who can deal with the risk of their reoffending and continuing their drug use? If that is Government policy, is it already in place on the discharge of all prisoners? If not, when will it be?

The hon. Gentleman has hit on the nub of what we need to achieve. No, that policy is not in place, and, yes, it needs to be.

We are doing work in the 25 drug action team areas that cover the 30 high-crime BCUs in the country. We are trying to develop a system that means that we do not lose people, so that they do not come out of treatment when they come out of prison—a seamless system in which they are, effectively, handed over to people who are warned not only about when they are coming out, but their needs, so that we can pick them up and work with them outside prison. We are trying to do that in 30 areas initially, to get the system as robust as possible. Then we will roll it out nationwide as quickly as we can.