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Community Sentences: Reoffending

Volume 630: debated on Tuesday 31 October 2017

3. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of community sentences in reducing rates of reoffending. (901514)

The reoffending rate for community sentences has been coming down since 2005. The latest figures show that 34% of adults given a community order or a suspended sentence order go on to reoffend. This evidence shows that community sentences are more effective at reducing reoffending than short-term prison sentences are.

I very much welcome the figures that were published on Thursday showing that recidivism was coming down for people on community sentences. However, about a third of people on community sentences do still reoffend, so will the Secretary of State consider the “swift and certain” programmes in the United States that have had considerable effect in reducing recidivism?

I am certainly keen to learn from best practice not just in the United States but in other jurisdictions around the world. What was striking about some of last week’s figures was that they showed that offenders who underwent drug or alcohol treatment in this country showed a 33% reduction in the number of offences they committed in the following two years. That is a lesson we can learn from.

May I recommend to the Minister my proposal of deferred prosecutions, which also gets to the community responses that can reduce recidivism? That is among the recommendations I made in the review that the Government asked for.

I reiterate to the right hon. Gentleman the Government’s appreciation for the work that he put into the review. We shall be responding in detail to his recommendations, including the one that he mentioned.

But is it not the case that according to the Ministry of Justice’s own figures, there is a direct correlation between the length of a prison sentence and the likelihood of an offender reoffending? In other words, the longer that somebody spends in prison, the less likely it is that they are going to reoffend.

It is true that short-term sentences appear to have the least effect in reduced reoffending, but the comparison with them is with alternative community sentences, which are available for that similar type of crime. Those community sentences work best when they link up with services such as drug and alcohol treatment programmes sometimes provided by other authorities in the community.

I think the whole House will agree that community sentences function only when magistrates have trust in the people supervising them. Last year, thousands of community sentences were served in London alone. Will the Secretary of State therefore commit today to an urgent independent review of the performance of the London company responsible for supervising many of these community sentences in London, following the revelations in last week’s “Panorama” investigation that the London CRC—community rehabilitation company—had failed to act on 15,000 missed appointments over 16 months?

Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the company responsible has denied some of the claims that were made in the “Panorama” programme. None the less, it is quite clear that missed appointments are a serious matter. We expect the London CRC, like other CRCs, to take appropriate action. I believe that in the independent inspectorate of probation we have precisely the kind of independent body that he has called for. It is currently looking again at London and we look forward to its next report.

I hear the Secretary of State’s reassurances about the delivery of community sentences by the so-called CRCs, but for us to be absolutely sure about this, I argue that we need to know the advice that the Minister has had about the failure of the CRCs. The “Panorama” documentary revealed an in-house MOJ paper warning of the risks of handing much of the supervision of community sentences to the private sector through the privatisation of probation. Will the Secretary of State make that memo public, so that we and the House can ensure that those flaws are being tackled?

I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to a document that was produced some years ago. It is important now that in addressing the underperformance of some areas of the probation service, we act on the recommendations from the independent probation inspectorate and seek, through the contractual mechanism, to drive up standards to where the public would expect them to be.