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Community Sentences

Volume 558: debated on Tuesday 5 February 2013

12. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of alternatives to short-term prison sentences. (141251)

14. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of alternatives to short-term prison sentences. (141253)

The Ministry of Justice has published evaluations of the effectiveness of community orders and custodial sentences in reducing reoffending. Reoffending rates are still too high, and that is why we have set out plans to transform rehabilitation.

While there has been a very welcome fall in crime and antisocial behaviour, many victims still feel alienated by the justice system and its impenetrable sentencing guidelines. Will the Minister speed up the move to restorative justice so that victims can feel much more engaged and the community will benefit from the justice system?

My right hon. Friend makes a good point. We do want to mainstream restorative justice, and we are working hard with the Restorative Justice Council to make sure that we go forward in a controlled and sensible manner.

Government pilots show that restorative justice programmes have caused a 14% reduction in offending. What steps are the Government taking to roll out schemes more widely throughout the country? Will the Minister give a specific pledge to protect funding for projects such as the Sycamore Tree foundation at Haverigg prison in Cumbria?

There is a framework, and we are looking at capacity and quality. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with full details.

Does the Minister agree, though, that we have far too many people in prison and that when they get to prison not enough is done to turn them into good citizens? Is there not plenty of evidence that effective treatment outside prison, in the community, works? Can we not improve those alternatives, because the probation service is crucial in helping to make them effective?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good and interesting point. Obviously, who goes to prison is a matter for the independent judiciary. Prison is absolutely the right place for some offenders, but I agree that for other offenders credible punitive community sentences can be a more appropriate disposal.

Has the Minister considered the effectiveness of short-term prison sentences for women, not only in reducing reoffending but the disruption and damage caused to dependent children by custodial sentences of a few weeks in prison?

Yes, I have considered that very carefully. Indeed, I have visited a number of facilities. I visited a wonderful facility in Gloucester a couple of weeks ago and will visit Alana House in Reading on Thursday to look at the exact issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised. Community sentences must, however, be credible as sentences and with the public. They cannot be fluffy options. They should have a punitive element and they should absolutely challenge the woman, or the man, to change her life. That is why the Crime and Courts Bill will require every community order to have a punitive element.