I start by saying how deeply upsetting it was to hear of the recent tragic incident at HMP Bronzefield. It was a terrible incident, and my thoughts are with all those who have been affected. As would be expected, there are a number of ongoing investigations, including an investigation by the police.
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the important role of women’s centres in providing holistic support to vulnerable women. This approach forms part of our female offender strategy, which announced a £5 million investment in community provision for women from 2018 to 2020. As we take forward the strategy, we are committed to ensuring sufficient funding for female offenders.
Almost half of all women sent to prison are homeless, up significantly in the past few years. Does the Minister really believe that this Government’s approach of failing to properly fund women’s centres is working?
Of course it is important that we look after all our offenders, and we have a particular strategy in relation to female offenders. We not only want to ensure they get adequate care in prison, but we are also intervening early to try to prevent women from entering the justice system at all.
Our local women’s centre, which supports many women in my constituency, helped 850 individual women in 2017-18. Currently, though, there is no core Government funding to help these women. Does the Minister agree that funding early intervention to support vulnerable women would prevent future crises and future pressure on the justice system?
I pay tribute to the centre’s work, which I am sure is important to the hon. Lady’s local community. There is funding from a variety of sources for women’s centres and, as I mentioned, it is something we will be looking at very carefully as we develop the female strategy. We have funded a number of very valuable women’s centres over the past year, including the Sunflower Centre in Plymouth and a new women’s centre in York.
Two thirds of women sent to prison get sentences of less than six months. Such sentences are proven to lead to more reoffending, and so create more victims of crime than tried and tested alternatives such as women’s centres. The Justice Secretary and his team know this, but they have chosen to ignore the evidence. Will the Minister tell the House today how many crimes her Department’s own research shows will be prevented by investing in such alternatives to ineffective short prison sentences?
We are very interested in looking at alternatives to prison sentences. Although we want the most serious offenders who commit serious violence and sexual crimes to spend the appropriate time in prison, we want to ensure there are sentences on offer in which the judiciary have confidence and that will turn people’s lives around. We are already working to improve the quality of information that sentencers receive about community sentencing options, including, for example, whether an offender is a primary caregiver and is pregnant or has given birth in the previous six months, so they can take that into account and give the appropriate sentence.
To help with that answer: the Government’s own research says that investment in alternatives would see more than 30,000 fewer crimes every year, an answer the Minister omitted, yet the Tories are deliberately choosing to ignore the evidence and are failing to invest properly in women’s centres and other proven alternatives. Instead, they are chasing “hang ’em and flog ’em” headlines, thinking that will help them win the coming general election. Luckily, the British people are not the mugs they are trying to take them for.
Does the Minister agree with her own Department’s report from July, which notes a
“statistically significant increase in proven reoffending”
for those on short sentences rather than effective community alternatives? If so, will she act on it?
I think the hon. Gentleman failed to listen to my previous answer on the importance the Government place on appropriate sentences and on our particular strategy for female offenders. I was at HMP Send a few weeks ago, and I saw how we are turning people’s lives around in prison. I met a woman who was due for a parole hearing—she is a lifer who has served 10 years—and she told me that she is not actually ready to be released because of the amazing support she is getting through the therapeutic community in her prison. For the first time, she is realising the consequences of her actions. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that women get the right sentences and the right provision in the community and in the prisons.