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Community Sentences

Volume 526: debated on Tuesday 29 March 2011

4. What plans he has for the use of innovative community sentences as an alternative to custody; and if he will make a statement. (49324)

We are examining ways of making community sentences more clearly associated with the principles of sentencing, not least so that those elements relating to protecting the public, such as residence, reporting, and curfew and tagging requirements, and those relating to punishment—fines and unpaid work—carry greater public confidence.

I am grateful for the Minister’s reply. Is he aware of the “Community or custody” inquiry commissioned by Make Justice Work, which has found that schemes offering tough and effective alternatives to short prison stays are facing funding cuts? Does he agree that that would be a step in the wrong direction?

We are trying to ensure that funding decisions are delegated more effectively locally, so that where decisions have been taken for alternatives to custody pilots to be mainstreamed or for alternative funding to be found for them, and they are found to be of value at a local level, they should be able to be protected at a local level.

Does the Minister agree that any alternative to custody must contain the essential element of punishment for the crime, as well as rehabilitation, in order to prevent a recurrence?

I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is very important that community sentences reflect the principles of sentencing—I made that point in the original answer. If they do not carry credibility in respect of punishment and protecting the public, people will rightly expect us to make a greater use of custody. As we know, short custodial sentences are not always in everyone’s best interests.

Given that the probation service says that there are already 6,600 high-risk or very high-risk people serving community sentences, and that the reoffending rate on the intensive supervision and surveillance programme in recent years has ranged from 74% to 92%, may I urge the Minister to ignore the siren voices of those on the Liberal Democrat Benches, and perhaps even in his own Department, who are calling for more community sentences and fewer people to be sent to prison? What Conservative Members want is more robust sentencing and more people sent to prison.

I know that my hon. Friend agrees that what we want is what works, and we want to ensure that there are fewer victims of crime in future. When our policies deliver rehabilitation far more effectively than those of the previous Administration, we will have protected the future victims of crime, and I know that he will—

Order. I am extremely grateful to the Minister, but we must move on. I am afraid that these answers are rather long and they need to get a bit shorter.