With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the findings of the report into the management and supervision of men convicted of sexual offences.
First, let me begin by acknowledging this incredibly important report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorates of Prisons and Probation and, secondly, by passing my apologies to the House, particularly to the shadow spokesmen, for the fact that they were not able to receive advance notice of this statement.
Sexual offences are among the most horrifying and tragic of all the incidents with which we have to deal in this Chamber, or indeed in public law. They inflict unspeakable harm on the victim at the moment at which the offence is created, and lasting harm throughout the individual’s life, leading to trauma, which, in the worst cases, can even extend to that individual committing suicide. No one should underestimate in any way the seriousness of this type of offence, or the obligation on the Government and their agencies to protect the public from sex offences.
This is a journey that begins in custody, but needs to go right the way through probation into the community. We are deeply grateful to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation for the work that they have done to look into this specific issue. I have spoken to both inspectorates this week. I spoke to the new director-general of prisons and the new director-general of probation, and asked them to look carefully at these reports.
At the end of the statement, I will go point by point through the major issues raised, but in essence, the central issues relate to: first, the accommodation provision for sex offenders on release; secondly, the risk assessment process for sex offenders; thirdly, the way in which professional training ties into that risk assessment process; fourthly, the opportunities for rehabilitative programmes; and finally, the question of home visits, and, in particular, issues of children.
Before we move on to those, I want to take this opportunity to reassure the whole House about the overall approach that we take to managing sex offenders, and in particular to public protection. There has been a huge shift over the past 20 years, as hon. and right hon. Members will be aware, in the way that we approach sex offenders. Many more people are now brought to justice for sex offences than were 20 years ago. That does not mean that more people are committing sex offences today; it means that more people are being brought to justice. This is driven by two things in particular: the rise in access to pornography, particularly on the internet; and the prosecution of individuals for historical sex offences—in some cases, committed many, many years ago—and the additional priority that the police have put on bringing those individuals to justice. We therefore have far more people in prison and on probation who are convicted sex offenders than 20 years ago.
When running through this very difficult and unpleasant subject, it is important to be aware of the range of people we include in the term “sex offender”. Some have committed a contact offence; some have not. Let me illustrate for the House what the range could be. Let us look at a recent case: a 50-year-old autistic man in the north of England who became addicted to internet pornography was driven to ever more extreme sites, and was eventually convicted—because we can detect people doing this—of sex offences. He served time in custody and has now come out. In that case, it was possible to work with the individual to get them off the internet and to reduce their offending. It is possible to protect the public from that kind of individual.
However, the range of sex offences goes right the way through to the most extreme high-risk cases, which would be dealt with through particular multi-agency protection arrangements. They would include an adult who was convicted of raping their partner, or an individual who had been in a position of authority, perhaps decades ago, and abused vulnerable children in their care. In thinking about how we deal with sex offenders in prison and on probation, we need to take into account the fact that they are very different individuals. Some of the oldest prisoners are now over 100 years old, and clearly the measures put in place for them will be very different from those put in place for others.
We must consider three things in particular—I would be grateful for an opportunity to discuss this in more detail with right hon. and hon. Members—that we do to protect the public: first, the multi-agency protection arrangements, meaning the way we work with the police and the probation service to ensure that we have a real focus on knowing where an individual is and on ensuring that they adhere to the conditions imposed; secondly, the licence conditions, which are imposed by the Parole Board mostly in cases of high-risk sex offenders; and thirdly, the sex offenders register, which has its own specialised requirements on what can be done with a sex offender.
Given the limited time available, I will focus on the issues raised in the report. The first, which has attracted a great deal of media attention, relates to the accommodation provided to offenders. As right hon. and hon. Members will have seen in the media, the inspectors highlighted cases in which sex offenders were placed in hotel accommodation. The first thing I want to say is that this is something we will work very hard to avoid in future, and I will explain how we will do that shortly. This is a very small number of cases. Every year, over 10,000 people are released from prison under that form of supervision, and of those only 54—sometimes it is 55 or 56—will end up in some type of emergency accommodation.[Official Report, 12 March 2019, Vol. 656, c. 1MC.] Of those individuals, only a very few—perhaps half a dozen—will end up in hotel accommodation. Before that can happen, the police and the probation service will conduct a detailed risk assessment to ensure that the individual does not pose a risk of a contact offence against a stranger. The individual will have committed a sex offence of the sort I explained at the start of my statement, or will have risk factors that do not impose that kind of risk on the public.
Nevertheless, we should still not place those individuals in that type of accommodation. With the director-general of the probation service, we are doing two major things to address this. First, we are providing the resources to build over 200 additional places in approved premises, so that individuals have such accommodation to go to. Secondly, in the interim, we will work with organisations such as Langley House Trust to provide alternative accommodation. My objective will be to significantly reduce, if not entirely eliminate, the possibility of anyone going to that form of hotel accommodation in future.
The second issue raised by the report relates to the risk assessment mechanism. Criticisms have been made about ARMS—active risk management system—which is the monitoring and assessment process that considers the risk factors when dealing with an offender. There is more that we can do on that in professional training. I have asked the director general of the probation service to look at moving the ARMS process, if possible, out of the community, where it has generally been located because of flexible changes in risk, and back into the custodial prison environment at an earlier stage in the process.
The third issue that the inspectors raised relates to approved accommodation. In relation to both approved accommodation and home visits, we must ensure that individuals are visited in their home, and that no gaps emerge between the police and the probation service. There are many other issues that we need to touch on, but I am aware that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, wish me to restrict my comments to 10 minutes, on a subject that I could speak about for an hour. I hope that in the questions that follow this statement, we can go into the subject in more detail.
In conclusion, we owe the inspectors a huge debt of gratitude for the work that they have done. We need to acknowledge that they have rated our national probation service as good, and that our public protection mechanisms, which I have mentioned, are among the very best in the world and have been praised by the inspectors, but they have also raised four areas of concern. We will tackle them one by one, because in public protection there is nothing more important than protecting people from the horror and trauma of a sexual offence.
I have not had advance sight of the statement, but the Minister, in his courteous manner, explained the reason to me shortly before the statement. I am somewhat astonished that, during his 10-minute deliberation, he failed seriously to consider and concede the true, damning nature of the joint report, which has public protection at its heart. We expect our criminal justice system to keep us safe, to keep our children protected, and to ensure the effective management and supervision of offenders, but it is clear from this damning report into the state of the management and supervision of sex offenders that this is not the case.
The report reads like a catalogue of failures in public protection. All five areas inspected had cases that presented safeguarding concerns, most often in relation to children, and around one in three of the intervention plans made paid insufficient attention to keeping children safe. Almost one in five plans failed to address sufficiently the need to keep the public, known adults and staff safe. Overall, inspectors found that there was poor release planning for sex offenders: many cases failed to present a comprehensive risk management plan and many initial offender assessment systems in prisons were missing. That created a situation in which proper restrictions on the access of sex offenders to children could not be applied, putting those children in real danger. Those are severe failings by the Ministry of Justice, and the public have a right to know that they have been put at risk by the Government.
Can the Minister tell me how many sexual offenders released since the beginning of the transforming rehabilitation programme have gone on to reoffend? How many adults and children have been put at risk by the serious failures identified in the report? Of particular note is the threat to the public posed by the inadequate and unsafe resettlement of sexual offenders after release, which he has today acknowledged.
The report identifies two instances, in the small sample, of offenders being released into budget hotels or other temporary accommodation instead of approved premises. The inspectorates have said that it was hard to see a defence for that decision in relation to protecting the public. How many offenders have been released into non- approved premises, how long did they stay in such premises, and what supervision and monitoring arrangements were in place? Does the Minister believe that such a decision was defensible? Following the Government’s privatisation of night-watch staff at approved premises, despite repeated warnings, what assessment has he made of this privatisation of public safety, and does he agree with the unions that that, too, will put the public at risk?
It is also evident that the failings found in the report have been caused and aggravated by the Government’s ill-judged and poorly delivered transforming rehabilitation programme, and their relentless, ideological cuts to the Prison Service. The transforming rehabilitation programme has dangerously and recklessly fragmented the probation system, creating a vastly increased and distressing workload that many staff find difficult to manage, with one in four NPS staff saying that they were not properly prepared for sexual offender work, and supervisors in both prisons and the probation service receiving little or no training. Without sufficient support, we risk losing committed and experienced staff in the probation system, just as we have seen in the prisons system.
What assessment has the Minister made of the transforming rehabilitation agenda on the ability of probation officers to monitor at-risk sexual offenders effectively and protect the public? What assessment has he made of the loss of experienced probation officers and thousands of experienced prison officers, and the impact of these losses on the MOJ’s ability to manage and supervise offenders? Ultimately, does he agree with the probation inspector that
“the public are not sufficiently protected”
from sexual offenders?
I thank the shadow Minister for his questions, which essentially focused on three separate issues: the transforming rehabilitation programme, reoffending rates, and accommodation. On accommodation, I absolutely share his concerns. He asked for the absolute numbers. As I said, the current numbers suggest that across the country, of the more than 10,000 people being released, 56 are being put in emergency accommodation—so a very small number. The number of those going into hotels would be a fraction of that—something in the region of half a dozen. However, as I said, we are doing all we can to eliminate this entirely. One of the ways in which we are aiming to do so is by building over 200 additional places in approved premises, of which half will be delivered next year.
The hon. Gentleman’s second question was on reoffending rates for sex offenders. Any reoffending by any offender is a tragedy; reoffending by a sex offender is a horrifying tragedy. The reality is that reoffending rates among sex offenders are significantly lower than reoffending rates among the population as a whole. At the moment, reoffending rates among short-term prisoners are running at about 60%, while reoffending rates among sex offenders are about eight times lower than that. In the case of low-risk sex offenders, the re-conviction rate is 0.8%. That means that 99.2% of people are not re-convicted. But 0.8% is still too high a figure, and there is much more that we can do to try to drive it down.
Where I would disagree slightly with the hon. Gentleman is in connecting this matter to the transforming rehabilitation programme. The question of the management of sex offenders is not about the community rehabilitation companies. Almost every sex offender is managed by the national probation service—in other words, managed by the Government, by civil servants, by a public agency. It has nothing to do with a move towards the private sector or the decisions that have been made to bring in the charitable sector. The report is absolutely explicit—both inspectors are clear on this all the way through—that it is on the performance of the national probation service, not the CRCs. The CRCs are not engaged with in this report. There has been investment in the national probation service since the beginning of the transforming rehabilitation programme. There have been many challenges for the national probation service in terms of its caseload and the types of offences that are coming forward, but, when all is said and done, there is a 9.7% budget increase in the resource going into the service.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that we have two very well-subscribed debates this afternoon, particularly the one on Holocaust Memorial Day. I therefore ask colleagues to make their questions, and the Minister to make his answers, as brief as possible.
I welcome the Minister’s frankness about the extent of the problem. Dame Glenys Stacey is a highly regarded and robustly independent inspector, and what she says is grave.
The Minister has rightly highlighted a number of specific areas that need to be looked at, and I have no doubt that the Justice Committee will wish to take this matter further. In addition to the specifics that he is going to work with, what is to be done to deal with an underlying problem highlighted in the report—the disconnect between what the leadership of the national probation service perceives is being done and what is actually delivered on the ground, with the lack of face-to-face contact, the over-reliance on emails, and the sense that staff are not fully supported? That is a systemic problem, and it is not the first time that the Select Committee and the inspectors have found it to exist. What steps will he be taking to deal with that underlying issue?
Resolving that problem is partly about resources. We need to make sure not just that we are putting in the 9.7% extra funding but that we are able to recruit the additional staff to reduce the caseload. It is partly about processes and management systems in order to make sure that we really record any contact with offenders. It is also absolutely about picking up on any issues where our national policy is not being followed at a local level.
Over the past two years in Scotland, we have had the lowest recorded crime for almost 45 years. In particular, violent crime has been halved in the past 10 years because of the work of the violence reduction unit. However, exactly as across the rest of the UK, we have seen an increase in sexual offences. As the Minister said, this has been for different reasons. Some of it is about exposure to pornography and some of it is about new crimes—digital crimes—but, in particular, it is about victims coming forward, which everyone should welcome. We now have the challenge of reducing the re-traumatisation they often face in the criminal justice system.
The report highlights that the national probation service is managing over 100,000 offenders, one in five of whom need supervision. The treatment programme that was being used failed: it increased reoffending and has had to be changed. How will the Minister ensure that there are sufficient staff and that they have training in the new programmes and, particularly, support, because they are often dealing with very harrowing cases that can take a toll on them? How will he improve integration—in the courses, the approach, and the IT— between custody and community? How will he ensure that the MAPPA—multi-agency public protection arrangements—level that offenders are given is consistent across England? How will he provide monitored accommodation where required?
Two years ago, Scotland got the power to introduce sexual harm protection orders and sexual risk orders, but amendment is required so that they can be recognised across the UK. We cannot have it that people can offend and move. I know that the Minister recognises that and that our Cabinet Secretary has written again this week. When will this be changed so that we can take forward these protection orders in Scotland?
To take the hon. Lady’s last point first, we will look very closely at that. I am very happy to have a meeting with her as soon as possible in order to do so.
The hon. Lady raised some very serious points, and I agree with all of them. We already have in place a lot of procedures to ensure that staff dealing with traumatic cases are given proper breaks and proper support. However, there are ongoing challenges, particularly around IT, data management and information-sharing between different databases that we are trying to address by making the tools simpler and by making sure that the databases speak to each other properly.
The hon. Lady’s questions about MAPPA and accommodation are absolutely on the nail. Because of the limited time, it is difficult to go through all the policy areas in detail, but she made five very strong points, and I thank her.
May I join in the general welcome for the inspectors’ report in this extremely difficult area? I acknowledge that this is a growing area of criminal justice interest because of the public anxiety behind the nature of these offences, for all the reasons the Minister gave about the growing burden on the service. In order to understand the nature of the cause of the offending behaviour—for the probation officers overseeing it and for offender managers generally, but also for the offenders themselves so that they can manage their behaviour in future—it is critical that the investment in forensic psychology is appropriate to the demand placed on the system. Is he satisfied that sufficient resources from the national health service and from elsewhere are going into the criminal justice system in order for it to manage the scale of the problem that it is having to manage?
First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who was a prisons and probation Minister. The connection with the NHS is central. Additional funding has gone into the NHS, and we need to ensure that that focuses on the most vulnerable offenders in terms of mental health, addiction and the need for courses provided by the national health service. Getting that right will be essential in dealing with violent crime, sex offences and short-sentence offences. The NHS connection is vital. The most important thing, from my point of view, is ensuring that we have the treatment provision in the community for addiction.
I was really disappointed to hear the Minister’s assertion that the transforming rehabilitation programme has had no impact on the results in this report, because most of these offenders are within the national probation service sector. Trade unions whose members work in this sector have long argued that transforming rehabilitation would damage public safety, and public concern about what it has done is strong. Surely he must now agree that those concerns were legitimate.
I agree that there are significant concerns about transforming rehabilitation, which is why we are looking at that seriously. We have issued a consultation on that and will be issuing reforms. My point is narrower: the issue of sex offenders is for the national probation service and is not affected by the CRCs.
This time last year, John Worboys’s release on parole was being planned. Many women in my part of London, including my constituent who was attacked by him, were extremely concerned about that decision. The report today underlines why people were so worried about the services’ ability to manage him, had he been allowed out of prison. I welcome the steps that the Minister is setting out, but how will he keep the House updated on the success of those steps and whether he is satisfied with the progress being made, in the light of this important report?
I am happy to continue to update the House on progress. The Worboys case taught us some important lessons about pre-sentence reports and connections between the Ministry of Justice and the Parole Board, and we are conducting an extensive review of that. It is important to remind the House that in the most extreme cases—MAPPA 3 cases—we have very significant protections in place for the public. I can hold forth on that in more detail if Members want to talk about the protection arrangements.
This report is littered with shocking findings. One of the most shocking is when the inspector writes:
“in 40 per cent of cases there had been no work focused on reducing the risk of sexual offending at all”.
How has that been allowed to happen? When will we have the trained staff to put it right? This is a matter of urgency.
The specific issue there is around the provision of accredited programmes, and there are two problems. The first is that accredited programmes are not suitable for all sex offenders. At the moment, we do not have programmes that are able to reduce the risk of reoffending significantly. In fact, some of the past sex offender treatment programmes can increase rather than decrease the chance of reoffending if they are delivered to the wrong type of sex offender. We have to distinguish between lower risk and higher risk sex offenders and ensure that we are delivering programmes in the right way. The Horizon and Kaizen programmes, which we have rolled out, are key to that, but they are not the key for everyone. I agree that we can do more to assess and to record, but I politely disagree with the inspector’s implication that we should attempt to deliver accredited programmes to 100% of these cases.
This report is largely about the risk of recidivism and the need to rehabilitate, but at the heart of the criminal justice system is the protection of the public. The malign and the malicious should be locked away, lest they do further harm, and the system can be simultaneously retributive and rehabilitative. Will the Minister look at the principle of just deserts, which has a long philosophical genealogy and is in tune with the opinion of the public, who believe that the vulnerable should be protected and the wicked punished?
Absolutely. In fact, if we simply look at the statistics, we see that we are much stricter now on sex offenders than ever before in British history—people are getting longer and longer sentences, and there is a reason for that. It is about ensuring that people receive indeterminate life sentences if necessary and are only released if the Parole Board approves, but it is also about ensuring that when people are released, they are on the sex offenders register, that the licence conditions are as strict and specific as possible, and that the multi-agency public protection arrangements are at the right level and properly enforced.
In my experience of working with men who abuse their partners, the underlying attitudes of sexual offenders such as Worboys who repeatedly rape and abuse women are frequently misogynistic and women-hating. What will the Minister do in his review of treatment programmes to ensure that staff have the training, support and supervision they need to tackle those misogynistic and women-hating attitudes?
We are learning an enormous amount about how to do accredited programmes well, and we should do more on that. One lesson we have drawn from the past programmes is that we have to get the balance right between not focusing too much on people’s past behaviour and trying to focus on coping mechanisms for their future behaviour, to identify their risks and avoid them. One problem with past programmes was, unfortunately, that focusing on past behaviour seems to encourage people to reoffend more. We must get the balance right between these offenders accepting the shame and guilt for their past performance, understanding the drivers and, above all, thinking about what happens when they come out, to ensure that they do not put themselves in a position to do it again.
It is, of course, welcome that more victims are getting justice, even if it is many years after the abuse they suffered. As the Minister rightly outlined in his statement, this puts pressure on the system. Can he confirm that there will be a move towards supervised accommodation where possible for those who are released from jail following these offences, not only for their rehabilitation but to reassure their victims?
This morning I was contacted by residents near Bedford Prison, who say that the screens that prevent prisoners from seeing into neighbouring gardens have been smashed, and prisoners shout and intimidate them day and night. Will the Minister act immediately to protect my constituents from that continued disturbance and protect their right to privacy?
My constituency is home to North Sea Camp Prison, which is a category D prison, colloquially known as an open prison. My constituents are concerned that people are put into such a prison before they are ready for that level of responsibility. Can the Minister reassure me that he will continue to do everything he can to ensure that people are only put in open conditions when they are ready for it?
This is a central point. We actually put very few people into open conditions. The number of prisoners in the category D estate is quite small. That is because a serious risk assessment process is conducted before someone is put in those conditions, involving the governor, the offender management in custody model and probation officers. We can continue to learn lessons when things go wrong, but by and large, we are confident that our open prisons are well managed and that the correct prisoners are in them.