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Custodial Sentences

Volume 485: debated on Tuesday 9 December 2008

7. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of custodial sentences of three months or less. (240231)

The Government regularly undertake research on the effectiveness of various sentencing disposals, including both custodial and community-based sentences.

Ministers have consistently told us that tough, firm community sentences can be more effective in reducing reoffending than short spells in prison. Given that our prisons are bursting at the seams and 92 per cent. of young men given a first-time short custodial sentence reoffend within two years, does the Minister really believe that sending 34,613 people to prison in the last year alone is the best way of tackling recidivism?

The hon. Lady needs to understand that we consider both custodial and non-custodial sentences to be important parts of the judicial system, and that courts must have the flexibility to be able to pass sentences that they believe to be appropriate. Last year alone, more than 6 million hours were spent serving non-custodial community-based sentences. The hon. Lady and her party need to reflect on what is important for the victims of persistent young offenders, and what is important in terms of the flexibility of the court system.

Does the Secretary of State think it appropriate that prison staff at HMPs Whitemoor and Peterborough are, at a cost of more than £3,500 to the taxpayer, running errands to pick up takeaways for inmates in the name of diversity? Does he think it acceptable to my tax-paying, law-abiding constituents that that is happening under his Government?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we do not think that appropriate, and that steps have been taken to ensure that it does not happen again.

Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) about custodial sentences of three months or less, can the Minister tell us what impact such sentences have on convicted offenders who are addicted to hard drugs?

My hon. Friend makes an important point in reflecting what the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), said earlier about the importance of ensuring that sentencing deals with those who are addicted to drink or drugs. That is one reason why flexibility must be at the disposal of the courts: they must be able to ensure that those who commit crimes because of their addiction can be properly dealt with in an appropriate fashion.

The Minister was right in the answer she gave to the original question, but does she not agree that, regardless of whether the sentence is three months, three years, 13 years, 23 years or 30 years, it should involve genuine rehabilitation, including education and training?