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Reconvictions

Volume 450: debated on Monday 23 October 2006

9. What assessment he has made of the reconviction rate of former prisoners; and if he will make a statement. (95427)

Reconviction statistics for adult offenders are published annually. They include an assessment of offences committed during a two-year period after release from prison. The latest results from the 2002 cohort were published in December 2005 as national statistics, and were made available to the House.

I am grateful to the Minister for that informative reply. Given that approximately 60 per cent. of adult offenders are reconvicted within two years of release from prison, and that high-quality education in prisons is vital to the prospects of rehabilitation, does he not agree that it is a manifest disgrace that almost half of prisons pay less for education than for work, and what will he do to try to improve that highly unsatisfactory state of affairs?

First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on taking a close interest in the issue of reoffending and the prison population; I know that he has asked questions relating to reoffending in many different ways. He will be pleased to hear that more than 10 per cent. of adults who gain basic skills qualifications now gain them in prison, and that the Prison Service is one of the key deliverers in enabling basic targets to be met. He will also be happy to learn that the rate of employment on release from prison is up from 10 per cent. some 10 years ago to 37 per cent., and that more than 13,000 offenders have completed drug treatment in prison and in the community.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a debate to be had about the prison population and what we do with people who are in jail. First, we have to protect the public, and that is why we must have adequate places. Secondly, we need to consider what employment opportunities there are in prisons. Some interesting initiatives are taking place across the country, and I would be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman and engage him in discussion on those projects, because I am sure that his support will help them to develop further.

Is the Minister aware of the work being done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle), in his local prison? He has been looking into the idea of incentivising prisoners to improve their literacy by allowing them visits from their children. There is an obvious correlation between improvement in literacy and family responsibility—and, in the long term, of course, employment possibilities on leaving prison. Will my hon. Friend look at those schemes to see whether they can be more widely used by the Prison Service.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the subject of the work that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) has done at Leeds prison. The Home Secretary paid tribute to that work at the last Home Office questions, and it is clearly the way forward. Many of those prisoners, having learned to read, then read to their children for the first time, and sent tapes home to their families. Reading builds up their confidence and self-esteem, so we need to support such schemes. It is clearly a priority to reduce the number of people aged 21 to 35 in the prison population who lack essential skills.

The Minister will be pleased to learn that it is not all doom and gloom. I should like to advise him of a success story in today’s Colchester Evening Gazette:

“Just one serious sexual or violent offender has reoffended in Essex in the past five years, thanks to a revolutionary scheme”.

The multi-agency public protection arrangements are provided by the police, probation officers, social services and the Prison Service. Will he join me in congratulating those agencies, and will he accept my suggestion that the scheme be rolled out across the country?

Again, I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned the multi-agency public protection arrangements. Today we have issued information on the annual report, to maximise its availability and public understanding of the scheme. The MAPPA arrangements are unique to the United Kingdom, and they help to achieve public protection by ensuring that serious offenders are properly managed. I add my congratulations to those that the hon. Gentleman expressed for the MAPPA work in his area.

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating organisations such as National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders on their work on the care and the rehabilitation of offenders? What is the current level of expenditure by the Home Office on such organisations, and will my hon. Friend give the House an assurance that, because of the work that they do, he will consider increasing the sum available, as that will obviously help to decrease the prison population?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his work with NACRO in his constituency. I do not have to hand the figures for the amount of money that we give NACRO, but we also give money to Rainer and a number of other voluntary agencies that work with prisons on the problem of reoffending. That is the direction of travel, as we want to find the best providers of services to tackle the problem. I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees that we need to look at what public services and the public-private sector can provide to ensure that we cut reoffending rates.

Prospects for offenders are bleak in my constituency, as nearby Pentonville prison is nearly full, so there is little opportunity for prisoners to follow detoxification or drug rehabilitation programmes. Drugs are rife, so what are the prospects for prisoners at our local police stations, which have been called on to house them, given that there is no opportunity for the drug rehabilitation that they desperately need?

I would not like the hon. Gentleman to run away with the idea that we are not achieving the education targets that we have set, as many of the schemes are on course. However, he is right to say that there are pressures on the prison population. In his recent announcement to the House, the Home Secretary said that the use of Operation Safeguard was “not ideal”, but was better than releasing prisoners. We want to protect the public, and we must balance that aim against what can be achieved in education programmes. We keep under review the effect on the prison population of the various schemes that take place in prisons.