Skip to main content

Early Release Scheme

Volume 463: debated on Wednesday 18 July 2007

The end of custody licence was introduced on 29 June. It is too early to say how long the scheme will be in operation. We are keeping the scheme under review in the light of new prison capacity coming on stream and the review by Lord Carter.

If 25,000 prisoners are to be released 18 days early, that will give them an extra 450,000 working days. I wonder what analysis the Minister has done of how criminals will use the additional 10,800,000 hours.

What I hope will be happening is the prevention of reoffending. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures for the success in preventing reoffending, he will see that the Government have beaten their target, have got more people back into work and are making Britain safer. Crime in his constituency, as in every other constituency in the country, is well down.

Would my right hon. Friend accept that one of the major problems leading to the high figures for the prison population has been the complete collapse of confidence in community sentences? Will he have a look at military-style supervision systems for offenders, which might provide some answers about the way forward?

My right hon. Friend is right in the sense that we need to build confidence in community sentences and I will certainly look at the suggestions that he has made. However, under this Government, we have more prison places, more community sentences and less reoffending. That is a record to be proud of.

I note what the Minister says, but he must accept that what lies behind the early release problem is the unprecedented rise in the prison population, which is partly the result of the Government’s failure to predict the results of their own policies. I am thinking, for example, of the indefinite public protection sentences. Lying behind that point is a question that relates to the Government’s overall policy. Do the Government agree with the statement of the former Prime Minister that the size of the prison population is an indication of the success of the Government’s criminal justice policy, or would the Minister now concede what everybody else knows—that it is a sign of its failure?

Like the hon. Gentleman, I want to see the prison population reduced—by means of both reductions in crime and changes in sentencing policy. I want to see more community sentences, because they have a real effect on preventing reoffending. We have approximately 80,000 people in prison today. I want to see the figure reduced, but we are building more prison places because, inexorably, there will be people who need to be in prison. We need to protect the public and we need to ensure that we have strong community sentences.

Does my right hon. Friend not understand that the victims of crime do not understand why prisoners are being rewarded with early release? Will he look to extending the prison capacity as quickly as possible, but will he also recognise that people with mental health problems may not be in the appropriate place, which will free up some prison places?

My hon. Friend will know that a couple weeks ago we announced an extra 9,500 prison places. He will also know that we have a strong record on preventing reoffending. It will be of interest to him that—in contrast to when the Conservative party was in power—under the Labour Government more people are spending longer in prison. The average was 25.9 months in 2005, compared with 20 months in 1995. We are making sure that prison is an appropriate place for dangerous, sexual and violent offenders and we are ensuring that there are community sentences wherever possible.

May I join others in welcoming the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to their new positions? Has he had any discussions with the Northern Ireland Office about the impact of the early release scheme for prisoners in Northern Ireland, in terms of the rates of reoffending that occurred there when people were released early and the impact on victims and their families, who saw people released before they had served their due time in prison?

I am in discussion with my colleagues in Northern Ireland. This scheme applies only to England and Wales at the moment. My colleague the Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office and I are in constant discussion. Yesterday we had a meeting on how to prevent reoffending in Northern Ireland and throughout the rest of the United Kingdom.

Is the Minister aware that more than 50 per cent. of prisoners are repeat offenders, that adult and young offenders released from custody are reoffending at rates of 67 and 75 per cent., and that 50 per cent. of offenders do not even get to court, and therefore never have a chance to go to prison? Is that a record he is proud of?

The hon. and learned Gentleman and I share a common objective, which is to reduce the amount of reoffending, and to reduce the number of people in prison. I wish that he would talk to his colleague the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who says that he wants to build more and more prison places and put more and more people in prison, and that he will spend what it takes to do so. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman needs to have a discussion with his right hon. Friend, rather than with me, as we more or less agree on that topic.