With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the Government's plans for transforming the rehabilitation of offenders.
Reoffending rates in this country have been too high for too long. Last year, around 600,000 crimes were committed by people who had broken the law before. Almost half the number of offenders released from our prisons offend again within a year. That goes up to a staggering 58% for the group with the most prolific reoffending rates: those sentenced to prison terms of less than 12 months. This depressing merry-go-round of crime has a dreadful impact on the lives of law-abiding, hard-working people.
Reoffending has a devastating impact on the victims of crime, but it is also terrible value for the taxpayer. We spend more than £4 billion a year on prisons and probation, and despite significant increases in spending under the previous Government, overall reoffending rates have barely changed over the last decade and are now rising again. The status quo cannot continue; we cannot go on doing the same things, seeing the same faces come back through the system time and again, just hoping to get a different outcome. This has got to change.
Those who break the law need to be punished. In yesterday's Queen's Speech, we set out how we are going to clamp down on those who persist in the low-level crime that blights our communities, and for serious offenders it is absolutely right that they get a custodial sentence. I want to ensure that they are punished, and I want to send the strongest possible signal that offenders will not get away with their crimes. However, I also want to see them get their lives back on track, and that requires a thorough and thoughtful approach. Such offenders have a host of complex problems—a shocking number of them will have been through the care system, and many have come from broken homes and are addicted to drugs and alcohol. At the moment, prisoners serving sentences of less than 12 months are simply released on to the streets with £46 in their pockets and little else.
In the coalition agreement, the Government promised to bring about a rehabilitation revolution to tackle the unacceptable cycle of reoffending. Today I am publishing our “Transforming Rehabilitation: A Strategy for Reform” which sets out concrete plans to extend and enhance rehabilitation both in custody and in the community.
Probably the biggest failing of the current system is that those with the highest reoffending rates get the least rehabilitation. Our plans put that right. Today we are introducing legislation so that, for the first time in recent history, every offender released from custody will receive at least a year of supervision and rehabilitation in the community. The Bill will extend statutory rehabilitation to all 50,000 of the most prolific reoffenders—those sentenced to under 12 months in custody. By guaranteeing this support in law, we ensure that probation providers are working with those who are hardest to reach and most likely to reoffend.
However, it is not enough just to ensure that everyone who needs rehabilitation gets it. We heard during the consultation that there is often a disconnect between what happens in prisons, and what happens on the outside. Too many offenders are falling through that gap. Therefore, in addition to extending rehabilitation to more offenders, we will create a genuine through-the-gate service. That has been paid lip-service in the past, so this time we will do it differently. I have ordered the wholesale realignment of our prison estate to designate new resettlement prisons, where the same providers who will be working with offenders in the community will work with them for three months before release too. Combined with the reforms to the prison regime that we announced last month to incentivise engagement in rehabilitation, this is a significant change. We are, for the first time, creating real continuity between custody and community, bridging the gap which right now just leads many offenders back to a life of crime.
Our reforms will also open up rehabilitation services to a diverse range of new providers, ensuring that we bring together the best of the public, voluntary and private sectors, at local as well as at national level. These providers will have the freedom to innovate and to focus on turning around the lives of offenders. Our plans will also use competition to drive greater efficiency, which is vital to free up the resources we need so that we can extend rehabilitation to a wider group of offenders.
A cornerstone of our reforms is payment by results, which will focus providers relentlessly on rehabilitating offenders and actually driving reoffending down. We will give those providers the flexibility to do what works and free them from Whitehall bureaucracy, but the deal will be that they get paid in full only for real reductions in reoffending and crime.
Breaking the cycle of crime will mean fewer victims in the long term, but we cannot and will not forget our primary responsibility for public safety. Therefore, we are creating a new national probation service, working to protect the public and building on the expertise and professionalism that are already in place. Probation staff make a vital contribution to protecting the public from the most dangerous offenders and will continue to do so. Under the new system, every offender who poses a high risk of serious harm to the public will be managed by the public sector probation service. We also know that risk levels can change, which is why the public sector will have the right to review cases where risk is more volatile or where circumstances have changed.
We cannot just carry on with the status quo and hope that things improve. These reforms may be challenging, but they are essential none the less. They are part of a radical programme of reform across the whole justice system, making it ready to meet the challenges of the future, reforming offenders, delivering value for the taxpayer and protecting victims and communities. My aim is to deliver year-on-year reductions in reoffending.
That would be the right thing to do at any time, but at a time of tough financial constraints it becomes even more important. We need to ensure that the taxpayers’ money we spend on rehabilitating offenders actually makes a difference. The plans we are publishing today will ensure that all those sentenced to prison or community sentences are properly punished but that they also get the support they need to turn their backs on crime for good. Transforming rehabilitation will mean lower crime, fewer victims and safer communities. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement—it is generous of him to share his thoughts with the House on this important subject so soon after briefing the national media. He is right that one of the best ways to cut crime, the number of victims and the cost of our criminal justice system is by tackling reoffending. It is disappointing that it has taken the Government three wasted years to reach that conclusion, but we welcome the intent of today’s announcement.
Reoffending rates are too high. We started to reduce them when we were in government—especially the rate of youth offending, which breaks the cycle of reoffending at an early point—but much more needs to be done. This is an ambitious programme. Unfortunately, it is based on fewer resources, on untried and untested methods and on putting faith in exactly those private sector organisations that have failed to deliver other major public sector contracts.
Let us take the proposal for support for everyone leaving prison—an extra 45,000 offenders on the Secretary of State’s figures. Can he explain to the House whether that is an uncosted demand for more resource or whether existing moneys will be spread much more thinly to deliver it? Resettlement prisons, as he said, represent a major restructuring of the prison system. What is the cost of that restructuring and what additional resources will go into preparing offenders for release? He knows that the prison estate is still chronically overcrowded and understaffed, so does he seriously think that a reorganisation can take place against such a backdrop? In London there is a major shortage of prison places, which means that offenders from London often end up housed hundreds of miles away from home and family, so how is resettlement to work here?
On release, even those who have served the shortest sentences are promised a year’s supervision and support with addiction, housing and employment. Who will pay for that at a time when drug treatment centres are closing? Housing is perhaps the most expensive item for newly released prisoners. On the “Today” programme, the Secretary of State speculated that housing associations would help out, so during the worst housing shortage for a generation are ex-offenders to get priority for social housing?
Who will fund the army of mentors, and who will vet them to ensure that the right people mentor offenders? The probation service has been cut by almost 10% so far and those cuts will continue. The service, which received an award for excellence two years ago, is by definition not to blame for rising reoffending by short-sentence prisoners, because they are currently unsupervised. However, it is not probation officers who will now undertake 70% of the supervision. The Justice Secretary places a great deal of faith in reformed old lags helping out, but he admitted on the “Today” programme that they will have to be paid. Professional probation officers sacked and replaced with ex-offenders: is this the Justice Secretary’s brave new world?
In reality, it is the Secretary of State’s old friends Serco, G4S and the rest of the cartel who will profit from today’s announcements. The 21 contracts are too large for smaller providers. An extra £500 million of public contracts are going to the people who gave us the Work programme and security at the Olympics. Now he is to impose his untested and untried payment-by-results methods on probation. Perhaps most seriously, a dangerous chasm will open up between public and private providers on the basis of an offender’s risk level, taking no account of the fact that in 25% of all cases offenders move between risk levels. Therefore, contrary to his assurance, private firms will be in charge of the most serious criminals, and we genuinely fear that that will put the public at risk. Failures in delivering probation services even to medium-risk offenders will mean that those guilty of domestic violence, burglary, robbery, sexual offences and gang activity will walk our streets unsupervised. Regardless of whether private sector providers deliver, they will still get paid at least 90% of the money. Do they have the incentive or the skills to supervise dangerous and violent people in the community?
Reducing reoffending while maintaining public safety should be our twin priorities. A focus on reoffending is to be welcomed, but the Government’s ill-thought-out policies and total reliance on payment by results are putting at risk the safety of communities up and down the country.
I plead guilty to having done a couple of media interviews this morning, but I am at least in the House right now. My opposite number, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), also gave some media interviews this morning but has not made it to the House, which is rather a surprise to me.
We learned an important lesson in opposition, which is that sometimes when one aspires to be a Government it is necessary to accept that something is the right thing to do. That is a lesson that today’s Opposition have not learned. I do not understand why they are coming out with this faux anger about what we are doing when the legislative foundations that enable us to push through these reforms were passed by the previous Labour Government. If they supported the concept then, why do they not support it now?
The hon. Gentleman asked about costs. That highlights an important difference between us and the previous Government. They believed that a problem would be solved by throwing money at it, and they ended up with an over-bureaucratic, over-complex system which simply did not deliver. Thanks to the work done by the Select Committee, we know that probation officers spend only about a quarter of their time at work on supervising offenders, while about 40% of their time is spent on providing support services. Are the Opposition really saying that it is not possible to run that system more efficiently and deliver support where it is needed to the offenders who are most likely to reoffend when they leave prison? Again, there is a divide between us and them. They think it is a question of spending more taxpayers’ money and having higher taxes; we want to get better value from the taxes that we already raise.
On resettlement prisons, again, it is about making our system work more effectively. At the moment, we move far too many prisoners all over the country in a fairly haphazard way. Over the past few months we have worked with prison governors and prison officer teams to work out a better way so that short-sentence offenders will almost always stay in one place and longer-sentence offenders will go to a prison close to where they will be released to ensure that when they are released we can deliver continuity of support through the prison gate. The Opposition should welcome that. It is the right thing to do and it should have been done years ago.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the past three years. It is only a few months since the Opposition were attacking me for not undertaking pilots on this issue. In fact, for the past few years we have been looking at how such a system would work, in Peterborough prison and in Doncaster prison. The work that has been done there is first-rate. It has also shown how effective older prisoners who are turning their lives around can be in supporting and mentoring younger offenders who have yet to do so. The hon. Gentleman needs to go out and look at what is happening, not in the world of big businesses, which his party’s Government contracted with regularly, but in the voluntary sector with some of our first-rate charities, where there are living examples of former offenders who have gone straight and who are now helping to turn around the lives of the next generation of offenders. I want to capture those skills in helping to bring down reoffending.
The hon. Gentleman questioned payment by results, but why is it such a bad thing in the eyes of the Opposition? They want to pay a whole-contract fee, but I believe that we should pay part of a fee based on whether the taxpayer gets a good deal or not. We should pay not unconditionally, but conditionally, and that is what we will do under these contracts. I want to pay for real results that bring down reoffending and crime.
Under the previous Government, reoffending barely changed. We ended up with a situation in which people were going round and round the system. We finally have a set of proposals that will start to change that. It is shame that this did not happen, not three years ago, but 13 years ago, when the Labour party was in power.
If this reform can be carried through in such difficult financial circumstances, it will be one of the most valuable and important things this Government do. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that the system must be tailored so that charities and voluntary organisations can viably play their full part, and that the creation of a national probation service must not be allowed to undermine the local co-operation between agencies, which is vital to reducing reoffending?
I can give assurance on both those points. The national probation service will continue to have local delivery units operating at a local authority level with local agencies, which is essential, and multi-agency supervision will and should continue for the most serious offenders.
On charitable groups, I am clear that quality and the likelihood of delivering success in reducing reoffending will be crucial in the contracting process. This is not simply a money-saving exercise; it is about easing pressure on the system by reducing reoffending. That is what it is all about and the bidding process will ensure that quality rises to the top.
Breaking the cycle of crime means breaking the dependency on drugs. I welcome the Government’s decision for mandatory drug testing. Will the Secretary of State confirm that it extends to those who go in and out of prison as well as to those under 12-month supervision, and will he be very careful when choosing drug rehabilitation providers? A group such as G4S has expertise in tagging—it is obviously good at that—but it does not have expertise in drug rehabilitation.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is always good to hear him make a thoughtful and measured contribution, which is not always true of the rest of his party. We have to be absolutely certain that the organisations we recruit to do the work have the expertise we need, particularly in the field of drug rehabilitation. I reassure him that I have no intention whatever to contract with organisations that cannot demonstrate that they have genuine expertise in delivering the solutions we need.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. I wrote about these proposals in a November 2007 paper called “Prisons with a Purpose”, and the previous Government should have done the very things under discussion a long time ago. May I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that not just the big companies, but the smaller providers, such as charities and individuals, can carry people from prison out into the community so that there is no gap between incarceration and coming out into society? Will he also urge the people he deals with to ensure that people are able to read when they leave prison? The average prisoner has the reading age of an 11-year-old and it is not possible for them to get a job if they cannot read.
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. One of the elements of the new contracts will be to combine resettlement services in prisons with post-prison support, so it is a genuinely joined-up service. His point about reading is of great importance. One of the encouraging things I saw in Peterborough is the way in which older, more experienced offenders who have gone through a longer process of rehabilitation in prison are starting to provide proactive help to the younger generation. I want to see those prisoners who can read teaching those who cannot to do so.
Can I be helpful to the Secretary of State? The cohort who have been reoffending badly are those who have been in jail for a short period. Why not extend the duties of professional probation officers to deal with them? That would be one simple answer.
As I have asked the Secretary of State before, what happens when the untrained privateer wants to breach the offender? Who then makes the decision and on what evidence will it be based? He has said today that he cannot leave matters in abeyance and hope that things will improve, but instead he is just stepping out into the dark—and hoping that things will improve.
Breach will be a matter for the public probation service. May I take advantage of the fact the right hon. Gentleman is a Welsh Member to pay tribute to the leaders of the probation trust in Wales, who have been enormously helpful in shaping the proposals? Their work on plotting a new path for probation has been very influential. I also say to the people of Wales that we envisage there being a distinct entity for Wales within the new national probation service, as there should be.
The target must be to have fewer crimes committed by fewer people and for criminals to continue committing crimes for a shorter period.
Will my right hon. Friend see whether figures can be published every six months on the number of people who have committed a serious criminal offence for the first time, the proxy for which will be those who have been convicted? I believe that the figure is about 1,800 a week.
Will he try to obtain a report every now and again on the people who have been released from jail that week who have a home, a worthwhile activity such as a job or training, and some kind of champion to help them go straight?
I am happy to look at what we can provide for my hon. Friend. He is right that we need to have the best possible understanding of what happens to people post-prison. We are putting in place a justice databank so that voluntary organisations that work in the area can understand the impact of their work. I will do my best to provide as much information to the House as possible about the issues that he raises.
The stress on rehabilitation is welcomed across the House, but is it correct that the public sector will not able to bid for the payment-by-results contracts? How can it be good to exclude some of the people with the most expertise and professional training in these matters?
No, that is not correct. I hope that we can pray in aid the spirit of the co-operative movement, which has played a great role in this country over the past 200 years. We are actively encouraging and supporting members of our probation teams who want to form mutual organisations to bid for the contracts, and I hope that they will do so.
The figures from my right hon. Friend’s Department make it perfectly clear that the longer people spend in prison, the less likely they are to reoffend. That is largely because they have time to do things such as learn how to read before they are released. What weight does he place on the use of longer prison sentences to reduce reoffending? The Department is also clear that indeterminate sentences for public protection have the lowest reoffending rate of all sentences. Given that reducing reoffending is so important, why on earth have the Government got rid of the thing that had the lowest reoffending rate of all?
Let me reassure my hon. Friend that the length of time that people are spending in prison has been increasing, not decreasing. I agree that we need to take advantage of the opportunity to turn people’s lives around in prison. Those who say that short sentences do not work and should not happen always miss the point that 80% of the people who arrive in our prisons have been through a community sentence that has not worked. On sentencing, we have introduced extended determinate sentences, which means that people will probably spend more time in prison for serious offences than would previously have been the case.
With such a major reform, it is important that the right hon. Gentleman takes the existing staff with him. Will he clarify what consultations will take place with the trade unions in prisons and probation services? On prisons, the redesignation of individual prisons means that there may well be a reassessment of the number of staff who are needed and of the skills and training that are required. On probation, morale is precarious and there are concerns about the failure to allocate the supervision of medium-risk prisoners because of the potential risk to the general public.
With a major reform such as this, it is always important to do everything that we can to take staff with us. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), who is responsible for prisons and probation, will meet the unions today. We have regular contact with staff organisations across the Department and that will continue.
I hope that probation staff will look on today’s proposals as an opportunity. I have talked about the potential for a co-operative approach in some areas, about greater professionalisation in the probation service and about a highly skilled public probation service. The strategy is not about getting rid of people who work with front-line offenders; it is about extending the system and making it more efficient so that we can provide more support to the people who need it.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for repeat offenders who want to turn their lives around and be productive and law-abiding is finding paid employment. Has my right hon. Friend held any discussions with potential employers in the private or public sector who would be willing to take that risk and offer employment to people with criminal records?
We are working hard to increase links with employers. The amount of work done in prisons has increased dramatically, and much of that takes place with potential post-prison employers—I pay tribute to the rail industry, for example, and the work it is doing. As we roll out these reforms, I want Jobcentre Plus and Work programme providers to be more closely involved with prisons, and to do everything we can to ensure that people flow from prison into employment. If we talk to most prisoners about what they would like to do when they leave, the answer is get a job. We must help them do so.
The answer to that is: as of yet, not exactly, because there will be a bidding process. I emphasise again, however, that that will not be simply about cost, and that quality will be at least as important as cost and the proportion of the contract put at risk. It will not be 100% payment by results because we must pay for orders of the court. I intend the providers to have some of their money at risk so that they have every incentive to perform on our behalf.
My constituents in Kettering are fed up with repeat offenders, but incensed when those people are foreign nationals. The best way to have fewer crimes committed by fewer people is to ensure that foreign nationals cannot reoffend because after their first offence they are sent home.
I rather agree with my hon. Friend. He and I both sit on the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party, but one thing I welcome within the confines of the European Union is the prisoner transfer agreement. That is being ratified across the EU, and I hope it will soon allow us to send quite a lot of the people he is talking about back to their home countries where they belong.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot avoid the fact that under the previous Labour Government, reoffending rates fell. I have a specific question that he keeps avoiding. One key determining factor in stopping people reoffending is getting a job and housing. Given that thousands of people in my constituency who are not offenders and have not been to prison cannot get a job or housing, what practical measures will he put in place to provide better access to jobs and housing for offenders?
We want to try to ensure that everyone gets a job and is housed. Everyone in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency has a vested interest in ensuring we bring down reoffending, because otherwise there will be more victims of crime. One thing I expect to see—this is already happening in parts of the provider community —is housing capabilities being part of the bids, and we already have partnerships between voluntary sector organisations and housing organisations to deliver better support for offenders. I want closer ties between Jobcentre Plus, Work programme providers and those delivering rehabilitation. We must ensure that we get as many offenders as possible back on the straight and narrow when they leave prison, to avoid having more victims of crime than we have today.
I warmly welcome the proposals outlined by the Secretary of State, and he will know that they have evolved and been trialled with organisations, charities and voluntary groups such as the St Giles Trust. Will he ensure that as the programme is rolled out, smaller organisations that drive much of the innovation and change, and many of the good ideas, will have a fair crack at getting their talents recognised in partnerships with larger primes, as well as a bid process that is not too cumbersome?
That latter point is important and we will try to ensure that the bid process is as simple as possible for smaller organisations, and that it is as simple as possible for partnerships to be formed. I am not attracted by simply having a universal prime and subcontractor model. In Peterborough and Doncaster, for example, partnerships are already being formed between the private and voluntary sectors in a way that can make a real difference. Such partnerships are to be welcomed.
In a parliamentary answer, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), stated that
“public sector entities will not be able to bid”
for probation contracts
“as they will not be able to carry the financial risk.”—[Official Report, 25 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 955W.]
Will the Secretary of State confirm that public sector contracts cannot be awarded to probation trusts?
Self-evidently, the existing structure of public probation trusts cannot take risk on behalf of the taxpayer, but staff are welcome—they are being helped actively—to establish co-operative movements and social enterprises that bid for the business. That is to be welcomed. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is a Labour and Co-operative Member, but he sits with many who are. Surely he welcomes that approach.
I congratulate the Justice Secretary on his statement. Rehabilitation is a long-held Liberal Democrat value. We need to focus on reoffending rather than engage in a competition as to who can be the most draconian and pose about it. He is right to highlight short-term prison sentences and to provide probation support. He knows that such sentences are expensive but not effective. Does he agree that spending more money on rehabilitation and on better community sentencing might be a better way of using it?
I can reassure my hon. Friend that the issue unites the coalition—there has been a lot of talk of the coalition parties having differences on policy, but let us champion a policy on which we are united on the need for change. As hon. Members will see when they read the document, one thing that is different in the package I have announced is that we are building rehabilitation support into community sentences. Clearly, the aim is to ensure that people do not get to prison in the first place. My goal is to see prison numbers fall steadily not because we want to close prisons for its own sake, but because fewer people reoffend, and we therefore do not need to put them in jail in future.
When probation officers dared to criticise the Secretary of State’s bonkers plans, he put a gagging order on them. When the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association criticised the Secretary of State’s bonkers ideas for criminal legal aid, he refused to meet him. Is it criticism he cannot stand, or engaging with the professions within the justice system?
My ministerial and I colleagues have regular meetings with leading figures in the legal profession and with leading probation staff, and will continue to do so. I most recently had meetings with both the Bar Council and the Law Society within the past couple of weeks.
I welcome the measures announced by my right hon. Friend to help young offenders. Does he agree that we can provide help through smaller charitable and voluntary organisations, such as Action Acton in my constituency, which does excellent work? Does he also recognise that some smaller organisations find that waiting a long time for payment by results stretches their resources to breaking point?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We intend to ensure that any passing of risk down a supply chain is done in a transparent way. We will do everything we can to protect the interests of smaller organisations, but they must take advantage of that protection and not simply sign up to deals that they cannot afford.
There is no doubt in my mind that the proposals are simply the privatisation of a highly valuable, well performing public service—the probation service. Despite a cut of more than £1.8 million last year, the Northumbria Probation Trust in my area is one of four trusts graded excellent performers. Why does the Justice Secretary not just admit it and come clean that the statement is not about reoffenders or the general public, but about the prize of privatisation, political dogma and ideology?
I welcome the statement and the Justice Secretary’s sense of mission and purpose. However, on payment for results, I ask him to be cautious of creating perverse incentives to meet targets, and to ensure that the measures are sufficiently nuanced to take account of the behavioural challenges in getting difficult categories of offenders fully clear of reoffending. The measures must be sophisticated enough to deal with such complexity.
That is a very important point. We took careful heed of the responses to our consultation on this matter. The mechanism for payment by results will contain two elements: an overall reduction in the reoffending rate of a cohort of offenders referred to a provider, and a measure for the overall reduction in the number of crimes committed by that cohort. That will mean that a prolific offender cannot simply be parked in the corner and ignored: there will be a financial incentive for a provider to work with every offender.
During the 12 months of support I understand that there will be cannabis testing and that individuals will be required to attend drug treatment services. Will the Minister explain how that will be costed, and which of the new NHS bodies will be responsible for providing and commissioning those services?
There are already drug testing services in place for offenders who are on licence and who are believed to have a drug issue. We are simply extending the testing from class A to class B drugs, and taking the power to do that testing through the 12-month period. That will be dealt with within the costing of the package as a whole.
Financial capability also plays a vital part in rehabilitation. Will the Secretary of State encourage partners in through-the-gate support to look carefully at the pilot programmes undertaken by some banks and in particular by credit unions, to help people to budget, save and participate fully in the legitimate economy?
That is a fair point. A range of different issues affect reoffending. I expect our providers to provide a glue between the different organisations that can play a role in reducing reoffending, with help on debt advice, housing options, rehab support and so on. Providing that central support, help and encouragement for the individual will be of fundamental importance.
May I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) on the perceived lack of engagement with those in the legal profession on some of the proposals, particularly those relating to criminal legal aid? They do feel that they are not being listened to. Given that payment by results is at the cornerstone of the proposals, if the Secretary of State cannot say now whether it will be 25% up front and 75% payment by results—or 50:50, 75:25 or 90:10—will he indicate when he can outline the proposals with more clarity? A number of excellent third sector providers will want to engage with this process and they need to have that information sooner rather than later.
The whole point of the bidding process is to look at quality, price and the proportion that individual organisations will be able to put at risk. We will publish a detailed tender document in due course, and that will give indicators of options and parameters within which they can work. I intend to publish that document for the House at the appropriate time. On meeting the legal profession, hardly a week goes by at the moment without a member of my ministerial team or myself having a detailed discussion with senior figures of representative groups in the legal profession. The last such meeting I held was yesterday.
Given the drive across government to support the recovery of those addicted to drugs and alcohol, can the Justice Secretary assure me that offenders will not be released without planning— they are often released on a Friday night, into the hands of dealers sitting on the streets—but will be met by rehabilitation experts, those who provide a network of recovery champions referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and those who know best how to enable people to go straight?
I can give that assurance. First, I am looking hard at the issue of Friday night releases. Secondly, the through-the-gate structure will ensure that whenever someone leaves prison they will be met at the gate by an organisation that will take immediate care over their lives. Thirdly, Members will see in the document that a joint project between the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health will be trialled to measure the impact of a more substantial through-the-gate rehabilitation treatment service, with a view to extending it more broadly as and when we know the results.
I welcome today’s statement for two reasons: first, its focus on reoffending, which is exactly the right thing to do; and secondly, the emphasis on continuity between being in prison and going out beyond prison, which is critical. Will the Lord Chancellor bear in mind, however, the importance of education during the rehabilitation process? In particular, young people who cannot read or communicate properly are at a disadvantage, and the process he envisages could well help in that field.
My hon. Friend is right that basic skills are fundamental to helping somebody get a job. I hope and expect that we will now have a much greater connection between resettlement services and education courses post-prison. I want somebody who cannot read properly and might have started training in prison to come straight out of prison and into the local college to continue that work. With the kind of support we will be providing, that will be much more likely to happen.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. From my 30 years’ experience as a practitioner at the Bar of the criminal courts of this country, I know that the disconnect to which he refers has existed for many years, but has not previously been acted on.
On the specific steps, can my right hon. Friend reassure me that the proposed local partnership arrangements will fully involve local authorities in that process and respect the work being done on community budgeting? Furthermore, does he agree that the work of those in the voluntary and charitable sector, which turns these people’s lives around, is one of the most powerful means of getting messages through to ex-offenders and that their work deserves rather more respect than it appears to be given by the cavalier comments from the Opposition Front Bench?
I rather agree with my hon. Friend. I can certainly reassure him that we will be looking for organisations that can demonstrate the ability to maintain partnerships where they are necessary. I am at a loss as to why the Labour party does not seem to think that using the expertise of the former offender gone straight to help turn around the life of a younger offender is anything but a very good idea. I ask them to get out of Westminster a bit and visit some of the charities where it is already happening to see the impact. It is substantial and we should make more of it.
Does the Secretary of State agree that behind every short term of imprisonment is a reason for offending, yet the lack of a system prevents us from getting to the root of that reason? We need the probation service or any other provider to ensure that we work and assist these offenders in the longer term, because if we get this right, it provides the best opportunity in a generation to turn these offenders away from a life of crime.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have chosen an extended one-year period of supervision even for people who receive very short sentences, because those who go to prison for a few weeks are those in danger of going back to prison again and again and for longer and longer. If we can stop them doing so early on, ideally before they get to prison in the first place, by providing rehabilitation support for those on a community sentence, we can stop the cycle of reoffending that he is right to say is damaging.