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Prison Initiatives and Programmes

Volume 603: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2015

9. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of increasing the use of sport-based initiatives in (a) rehabilitation and (b) counter-extremism programmes in prisons. (902601)

We are interested in developing and testing sports-based initiatives as part of our approach to rehabilitation, and remain committed to using evidence to drive better outcomes and value for money. In October this year, we part-funded an initiative called the National Alliance of Sport for the Desistance of Crime, which will provide further evidence for whether and how sport may assist desistance.

The often troubled young men and women who, instead of having their anger and drive directed elsewhere, fall prey to manipulative and destructive extremist ideology are to be pitied. Is the Minister aware of the success of boxing in rehabilitation and helping to prevent extremism, including in prisons such as HMP Doncaster, and will he consider piloting non-contact boxing schemes in more prisons and for more categories of offender?

My hon. Friend, who has been persistent on this issue, is right that there is promising evidence for the positive influence of sport in rehabilitation. Across prisons in England and Wales, we have 183 different sports-based interventions, although not all of them are available in all prisons. The National Alliance of Sport for the Desistance of Crime will go further in this area, but I would be happy to meet her to talk further about the initiatives she mentions.

I am not convinced that teaching potential jihadists boxing or table tennis will form an essential part of a de-radicalisation programme, but I am ready to be convinced on the pilot. Does the Minister agree that one way to do this is to appoint an extremism officer to monitor radicalisation in prison and ensure that people are de-radicalised when they leave prison?

We will of course proceed according to the evidence from the initiative we have just launched. The right hon. Gentleman will also know that the Secretary of State has launched an independent review of extremism across the prisons estate. Yesterday, I met the excellent former governor who is conducting the review, and we will report in due course.

I am afraid there is an ever-widening chasm between what the Secretary of State and the Minister say about what is happening in our prisons and the reality. I do not doubt that the Minister is sincere in his belief that improvements are being made, but, given that in most prisons exercise in the fresh air, which the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) so wishes to see, is limited to just 30 minutes a day and purposeful activity outcomes are currently at the lowest level inspectors have ever recorded, owing to understaffing, how can he suggest that there is anything other than a crisis in our jails?

I genuinely respect the hon. Lady’s experience in this area, but we have been extremely successful in getting a lot more prison officers on to the landings up and down the country. In the year to 30 September, we saw a net increase of 540 prison officers, meaning less restrictive regimes and more activities. The good news is that we will carry on recruiting at that number up to the end of March next year, when we are seeking an additional 1,700 to 2,000 prison officers.