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Offending by Probationers

Volume 563: debated on Tuesday 21 May 2013

On 9 May, I announced “Transforming Rehabilitation: A Strategy for Reform”, which sets out how we will transform the way in which we rehabilitate offenders to make progress in driving down reoffending rates. Under our proposals, for the first time in recent history, every offender sentenced to less than 12 months in prison will receive statutory supervision and rehabilitation in the community when they are released from custody. Alongside that, we will open up the market to a diverse mix of providers, freeing them to innovate and paying them by results, so that they focus relentlessly on reducing reoffending.

I would like to take this opportunity to praise the innovative work that my local Kirklees probation service is doing to bring down offending rates. Rates in West Yorkshire are down by 10% and in Kirklees the reduction is nearly 17%. I spent time with my local service over the Easter recess. What effect will the extension to a minimum of 12 months’ supervision in the community now have?

Good work is being done in many parts of our probation service, but overall, rehabilitation is not delivering what we expected it to, and reoffending rates are rising. However, I expect the teams that are delivering excellent work on the ground in our probation service to play an important part in the future that we have unveiled. In many areas, we will see those probation officers forming their own social enterprises and partnerships to deliver a high-quality service to us.

When I visited the Kirklees probation service, which is based in Huddersfield, I found people who were very demoralised by some of the Government’s proposals. They feel that they are undervalued, and I agree with them. The probation service is probably the most effective and efficient part of the criminal justice system. Are not the Government undermining its morale?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is simply not right. The Select Committee found recently that only 25% of the time probation staff spent at work was spent working with offenders—the Committee’s Chairman is here today and he will recall this—yet the biggest block of offenders who are likely to reoffend get no support at all. That is why change is necessary.

We very much support the Government’s moves to extend supervision, but they also want private security firms to take responsibility for supervising medium-risk offenders in the community. That would include people who have committed violent and sexual offences. How do the Government plan to ensure that those private security firms have the appropriate skills and training to protect the public?

It is a pleasure to see the hon. Lady in her place today. I have begun to forget what the shadow Secretary of State looks like. His team regularly attends these events, but there are some faces missing.

The whole point of what we are trying to do is to address the glaring gap in the system that is leading to reoffending rates that are simply unacceptable. The mechanisms that we are putting in place to manage risk will provide a simple means of transferring offenders from a medium-risk category to a high-risk category if their situation changes and if a risk assessment carried out by the public probation service requires such a transfer. The public probation service will always remain responsible for dealing with the highest-risk offenders.

I think that the Secretary of State has ambitions to deliver a public lecture on this subject, but he should preferably not do so in the Chamber today.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one way of maintaining continuity in the records of ex-offenders under his new regime would be to welcome in-house spin-offs such as those being proposed in Wiltshire? These would involve the existing probation service becoming a separate and private individual organisation.

I very much welcome the discussions that are taking place. Support is being provided by the Cabinet Office, including financial support, for those members of our probation teams who want to set up their own spin-offs, and I would positively encourage them to do so.