We remain on track in delivering our reforms to transform rehabilitation and bring down reoffending rates. Since 1 June, the new national probation service and community rehabilitation companies have been working together to manage offenders. The competition for new owners of the 21 community rehabilitation companies will conclude later this year.
We are on track to establish the network of resettlement prisons later this year to coincide with the commencement of the mentoring and supervision of under-12-month offenders. This part of our reforms is enormously important. It will mean that offenders will spend the last few months of their sentence in or just outside the geographic area into which they will be released in order to ensure that we have a proper through-the-gate service to plan, prepare and implement arrangements for their release.
I can confirm that arrangements were put in place in the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 to ensure that there is a statutory obligation to make arrangements for women. We want to ensure that both men and women have full access to through-the-gate support and preparations for release. The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), is working on a number of innovative projects in the women’s estate to ensure that we do the best possible job of preparing women for release and deal with their particular circumstances, especially when they have young children and families.
In a written answer, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright),confirmed that the top five repeat offences include theft, assault, drink-driving, criminal damage and drug possession. What steps are the Government taking to address those repeat offences?
One of the key changes we are pushing through in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which is currently in the other place, will ensure that repeat cautions are not used in the routine way they have been in the past. My view is that if somebody systematically commits a particular offence they should be brought quickly before the courts. Although a caution might initially be appropriate, it is certainly not a tool that should be used again and again.
The official National Audit Office estimate is that about £13 billion a year is spent by our nation as a whole on dealing with the consequences of reoffending. Reoffending is now a particularly significant part of our national crime picture. We have seen crime rates and the number of first-time entrants to the criminal justice system fall, so more and more of our problem is with reoffending and that is why it is such a priority for us.
I am very much of the view that mentoring is an important part of the way we support former offenders as they come through and leave the prison system. It is essential that we help them get their lives back together again, particularly given the fact that many of them come from the most difficult of backgrounds. I am encouraged by the number of voluntary sector organisations that have expressed an interest in and put their names forward for the transforming rehabilitation programme. The voluntary sector will play an extremely important part in the way things develop in the future.
When did the Secretary of State last meet the Secretary of State for Health to discuss mental health services and drug services? They are under pressure in many areas and it is vital to follow that up in order to support people coming out of prison by ensuring that they have access to those services.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady. The last conversation I had with the Health Secretary about this was a week ago. We intend to do joint work on it and I see it as my Department’s next big priority. It is something we have to tackle and to tackle effectively.
My constituent Gwen MacDonald has worked for more than 20 years in the probation service in Sheffield. When she asked why she had not been selected to move with the national probation service—she was to move to one of the new companies instead—when someone who had been in the service for only six months had been selected, she was told that it was because the selection was done by drawing names from a hat. Does that not show an utterly shambolic approach to probation? Does it not say everything about this Government’s approach, and what is the Secretary of State going to do about it?
Recorded rates of reoffending are going to plummet in Bassetlaw because police cells have shut, there are fewer police, and now 800 years of local justice are to be ended by getting rid of the criminal court. Does the Secretary of State not worry that he will wake up one night with destroying local justice on his conscience? What is he going to do to ensure that we can have reoffenders prosecuted locally in Bassetlaw?
I am not aware of the individual circumstances of the hon. Gentleman’s local court, but I can tell him that any changes being made to the listing procedures in our courts in Bassetlaw are being made at the instigation of local committees, local magistrates and other representatives of the justice system, who are taking a decision in the best interests of the area.
It is important that we reduce reoffending so that we have fewer victims of crime, but far too many victims are being failed by our criminal justice system. Yesterday, a serial victim of domestic abuse was almost forced to disclose her safe address during a court hearing; she was saved only when the local Member of Parliament intervened. Months have passed since the Government blocked our proposals to prevent such cases from happening. When is the Secretary of State going to protect victims with a proper victims law?
The Opposition always talk about laws. What we have is a victims code, which was put in place last year and was widely welcomed by victims’ groups. We are also following innovative new approaches, such as the scheme being trialled now to protect vulnerable witnesses by keeping them outside the cordon of the courtroom. I am always open to ideas about how we can improve the situation. Victims are a priority and will continue to be so.
As an avid reader of the Bradford Telegraph & Argus the Secretary of State will know that 104 people are driving on the streets of Bradford who have amassed 12 or more points on their licence—some have as many as 20. Does he believe that that is an acceptable state of affairs? Is he worried about this rate of serial reoffending in Bradford?
It is of course utterly unacceptable that that is the case. We are in the process of both tightening up and looking at further ways to tighten up our driving laws. The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill now contains provisions to deal with disqualified drivers and we are reviewing other aspects of the motoring system, to ensure that it is acting appropriately and justice is being done. We shall certainly take account of the experience in Bradford in that review.
How does the Secretary of State propose to reduce reoffending when, at the last count, workshops in HMP Risley in my constituency had been closed on 110 occasions because of a shortage of staff? He knows full well that one of the best ways to prevent reoffending is training and education, so when is he going to get a grip and make sure that there are enough prison officers available to deliver that?
We have increased the number of hours of work being done each year in our prisons by about 2.5 million, and we intend to continue to do that. We are in the process of doubling the amount of education available to young people in the youth estate, and the hon. Lady knows that Warrington has such a facility at Thorn Cross prison. We intend to continue to identify ways to deliver purposeful activity in prisons, so that people have the best chance of not reoffending.