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Offender Management

Volume 476: debated on Wednesday 21 May 2008

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on offender management in Wales. (205952)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly discuss offender management issues with ministerial colleagues. The Government remain committed to ensuring efficient offender management. We have provided an extra £40 million to help bring about more effective community sentences, and we are also increasing prison capacity.

Prison capacity may be increasing, but the Minister is surely aware that the present chronic lack of spaces has led to dangerous prisoners being taken out of closed prisons and put into the camp at Prescoed, from which they immediately escape. Will he undertake to return to the Justice Minister and demand that enough spaces are built in the closed estate to ensure that people living near open prisons such as Prescoed can sleep safely in their beds at night?

We have provided an extra £1.2 billion to deliver a further and extended building programme that will create 15,000 places in England and Wales by 2014, 330 of which will be at Parc prison. As for the use of open prisons, public protection is the top priority. All prisoners in open prisons have been risk-assessed rigorously, and are in the final stage of their sentences. Moreover, the number of absconds from open prisons is at its lowest for a decade.

Does the Minister accept that there is a rather poor partnership between the National Offender Management Service and the representatives in Wales? May I remind him that, according to the 2006-07 estimates, it cost £890 million to build the London headquarters, compared with the £833 million spent on the probation service as a whole? Does he not recall that, until we amended at a late stage the Bill that became the Offender Management Act 2007, the National Assembly was not even a statutory consultee in the process?

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is vital for the Welsh Assembly always to be consulted at the earliest opportunity, and throughout the process, on justice and all other issues.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the success of the women’s demonstrator turnaround project, funded by the National Offender Management Service? It is based in Cardiff, and works with women offenders to prevent them from reoffending and going to prison. Will my hon. Friend do all that he can to support the project?

I will indeed. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to that work, and I also pay tribute to her support for it. I was pleased to be able to visit people involved in the project only last year, and hope to return in the near future to observe their excellent work again.

As the Minister probably knows, seven out of 10 prisoners have two or more mental health conditions. Given that health care for prisoners, including mental health provision and drug and alcohol treatment, is the responsibility of local health boards in Wales, will he commit his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to liaising with the Welsh Assembly Government to bring about a massive increase in provision, so that prisoners in Wales can gain access to the treatment that they need?

The hon. Lady has made an important point about the need for liaison between the Welsh Assembly Government and lead Departments in this place. I take that on board, and I shall be happy to reflect the importance of that close discussion as this Government and the Assembly present their policies.