Skip to main content


Volume 535: debated on Tuesday 8 November 2011

We are supporting local areas to develop integrated approaches to managing offenders and testing payment-by-results arrangements for providers working with short-sentenced prisoners.

Around 4,000 women are in British prisons, most of whom are serving short-term sentences. Does the Minister agree that community women offender projects can provide a very real alternative to custody?

I suspect there is a consensus across the House about that issue. It is worth reflecting on the fact that, 15 years ago, there were only 1,800 women in prison. The Prison Reform Trust has pointed out that:

“During one year more than 11,000 women are imprisoned and almost 18,000 children are separated from their mothers.”

Some women need to go to prison, and it is important that custody remains available. However, we are focusing on developing suitable, intensive community sentences that can prevent such a flow into the custodial system wherever possible.

Is the Minister aware that stalking is a pernicious crime that often attracts short sentences? Those sentences are no good at all if the quality of the treatment for stalking is not up to a good standard; those people are free to go back and stalk usually the very women they were stalking before.

That is an example of the fact that prison plainly plays an important role in relation to both punishing and incapacitating offenders. It must also play a role in the rehabilitation of offenders. The system has too often failed in that third role, including for the most serious crimes.

The way to stop foreign national prisoners who serve a sentence of a year or less from reoffending is to return them from whence they came to their country of origin. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that that is being done on each and every occasion?

I know my hon. Friend’s long-standing interest in that issue. It is absolutely right that those prisoners who have served a prison sentence should expect to be returned to their country of origin. We are returning more than 5,000 a year, and we will continue to make every effort to do so.

The hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) is right about women prisoners. Under the previous Government, an inter-ministerial group was set up to try to implement the recommendations of the Corston report. Will the Minister describe what efforts he is making to maintain that work in Government?

We do seek to maintain it. The focus must be on developing suitable community sentences that can satisfy the courts, address the causes of reoffending and also be sufficiently punitive. It is important that the public have confidence in such sentences, so that we can ensure there is a satisfactory alternative for women who do not need to be sent to prison. The absence of satisfactory alternatives in the past has been part of the problem.