In the debate on the Queen’s Speech, the Government announced the creation of six early adopter reform prisons. The governors of those prisons will have unprecedented freedom to run their prisons and find better ways to rehabilitate offenders.
One thing we can do particularly effectively is ensure that prisons, whether reform prisons or others, have close and effective working relationships with the community rehabilitation companies that were instituted by my predecessor and are doing so much to ensure that all prisoners, whatever the length of their sentence, receive support on release.
Given that the Justice Secretary has already announced the six prisons that are to be reform prisons, but he has not yet announced the White Paper or indeed published the prison reform Bill, will he tell the House when he will do the latter, because at the moment he is putting the cart before the horse?
It is important that we give the governors of these prisons as much freedom as possible. It is also important that they are able now to explore some of the additional freedoms operationally without the need for legislation. In the autumn, we hope to publish a White Paper and the legislation alongside it.
It absolutely will. The effective team managing the National Offender Management Service under the superb public servant Michael Spurr has found an additional £10 million to help mitigate the effects of prisoner violence and to reduce violence overall. That money will go direct to the front line.
One area of reform should be to stop pregnant women having to give birth in prison. I know that the Government are committed to that, but can we consider carrying out a pilot study so that women do not have to give birth in front of unnamed guards?
The hon. Lady makes a vital point. We are looking at how female offenders are treated overall. One thing we need to do—I know that this is not a view universally held by all my hon. Friends on the Back Benches—is to think hard about how we can reduce the female population in prison, and treat women who are in custody more sensitively.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that reform prisons are an important part of a broader package of reform of penal and criminal justice policy, so that we not only make better use of the time of those who are in prison, but make sure that we reduce the total number of people going to prison by finding an effective and genuinely successful means of dealing with offending in the community?
The Chairman of the Select Committee on Justice is absolutely right. In the same way that the creation of NHS foundation trusts was not the only aspect of reform of the national health service, and the creation of academy schools was not the only aspect of reform of the education system, the creation of reform prisons is not a change in isolation. It is part of a broader change to the criminal justice system, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that part of that is diverting people from custody when appropriate.
When developing reform prisons, will the Secretary of State take into account the experience of Feltham young offenders unit, which has become the first autism-accredited prison in the country? I led a cross-party visit by the all-party parliamentary group on autism to the prison yesterday, and saw how that was helping to reduce violence and assisting rehabilitation. Will the Secretary of State give me an assurance that each reform prison will work towards accreditation for autism and will eventually be able to achieve that accreditation before it begins to operate?
My right hon. Friend is a fantastic campaigner for individuals living with autism, and I will absolutely ensure that reform prisons and others learn from Feltham. A disproportionate number of people in custody live with various mental health and other problems, and many of them are on the autistic spectrum.