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Reoffending Reduction

Volume 672: debated on Tuesday 25 February 2020

There will be a renewed and ambitious cross-Government effort to reduce reoffending. It will build on the existing established partnerships with a range of other Government Departments. We will focus on addressing the health of offenders, educational attainment, rebuilding or reinforcing family relationships, and housing and employment issues.

Many of those in prison have low educational attainment and lack skills, which makes it difficult for them to integrate on release. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that education and training in prisons give offenders the skills they need to have successful crime-free lives when they are released?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She can be reassured that in April 2019 we implemented new prison education contracts which deliver services designed by prison governors and staff to best meet the specific needs of their prisoners and local labour markets. Indeed, we will be developing a new prison education service that will build on further commissioning, improving the range of training available to prisoners that is directly linked to real jobs on their release.

As someone who used to mentor young offenders, I saw at first hand the impact that not having somewhere to go after release had on them and their chances of getting into meaningful employment. What steps is my right hon. and learned Friend taking to ensure that those who leave prison have somewhere safe to live?

My hon. Friend speaks with authority on this matter. It is simple: a home, a job and a friend are the path away from reoffending. Through the Government’s rough sleeping strategy, we are investing up to £6.4 million in a pilot scheme to support individuals released from three named prisons: Bristol, Leeds and Pentonville. I am sure that that work can be scaled up to offer released prisoners a real opportunity to have stable accommodation.

Does the Secretary of State agree that a key pathway to reducing reoffending is through meaningful and rewarding paid work that prisoners can do, such as that provided by my constituent in Clwyd South, Kerry Mackay, whose rapidly expanding business based in Llangollen sells environmentally friendly, biodegradable cleaning pads called Scrubbies, some of which are made by prisoners in Warrington and Wrexham?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for citing an example from Llangollen, a wonderful part of my homeland. I agree that meaningful and rewarding paid work can contribute to ex-offenders turning their backs on crime, and I commend his constituent for recognising that potential. As a result of the New Futures Network that was set up last year, over 480 businesses have signed up to offer work to prisoners as a pathway out of crime.

With their privatisation of probation, the free market fundamentalists in the Conservative party sent reoffending up and made working-class communities less safe. Despite acknowledging that that privatisation failed, under new plans the Tories are still insisting on handing hundreds of millions of pounds over to private companies. Is that because they are ideologically wedded to the free market, or is it because the Tory party is in the pockets of the billionaires and the private corporations?

The only fundamentalist I see is sitting on the Benches dead ahead. This Government are committed to reforming and improving the probation service by creating a truly national framework. I make no apology for wanting to harness the ability of small organisations and charities that specialise in rehabilitation, working together with our National Probation Service. We are not ideological; the hon. Gentleman is.

I am afraid that even though the Government do not like it, what I said is in fact the truth. They even had a Justice Minister who was a spin doctor for the private sector justice giant, Serco. If they want to show that they actually care about public safety, will they guarantee today that any corporate giant involved in the probation privatisation scandal will be excluded, as they should be, from the new probation contracts? No waffle, please—a simple yes or no will suffice.

The hon. Gentleman tries very hard to pin the ideological cap on me and our Front Benchers. I am afraid that he is playing a very old record that needs to be changed. We take an entirely new approach to probation. We will look at all providers and judge them on their past record, but we want to make sure that we obtain maximum value for money, harnessing the best of our National Probation Service with the work of the third sector, the voluntary sector and, indeed, the private sector, where appropriate.

I have no doubt about the Lord Chancellor’s sincerity in trying to help people not to reoffend. I also know that he cares deeply about Wales. There is a specific problem with female reoffenders and there not being a women’s centre in Wales. Will he update the House on the progress he has made with the Welsh Government on ensuring that a women’s centre will be built in Wales in the coming months and years?

The hon. Gentleman is right to press me on this. It is an ambition of mine to attain that, bearing in mind my deep knowledge of women offenders and the fact that Eastwood Park is the nearest secure accommodation for them. At the moment, I cannot promise specific plans, but I am prepared to work with him and indeed the Welsh Government to make that a reality through our excellent women offenders strategy, which is championed by the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer).

Is the Lord Chancellor aware of the work of the Community Self Build Agency in helping ex-offenders to create their own dwellings, which they can then rent at an affordable rate and possibly buy in the future, and the startling effect that that has had on recidivism rates? Given that the National Self Build & Renovation Centre is in his constituency, will he consider working with the Right to Build Task Force on a project to scale up models that have already been demonstrated to work in this area?

My hon. Friend is right to mention the National Self Build & Renovation Centre. I am very interested in modern methods of construction and how they could be developed on the secure estate as a real contribution to our housing supply issue, and I would be very interested to work with him and the organisation he mentions to make that more of a reality.

In Scotland, we have seen a fall in reoffending rates, which are now at a 20-year low. This is a remarkable achievement by the Scottish Government, who have reformed the justice system by focusing on community sentences, such as community payback orders, and a presumption against short sentences. Will the Lord Chancellor meet his counterpart in the Scottish Government to discuss what the UK Government can do to learn from the SNP Scottish Government?

I welcome the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman raises his question. When I was Solicitor General, I met the lead official on community sentencing in the Scottish Government, who had a lot of experience here in the capital and elsewhere in England. Yes, there is a lot we can learn, although I am not with him on an absolute abolition of short-term sentences. The evidence does not necessarily point to it making a big contribution to a reduction in reoffending. However, there is a stubborn cohort of prolific offenders who end up in a revolving door situation, and it is that agenda that I will be addressing as part of my smart approach to sentencing later in the year.

For one category of crime—domestic violence—the moment of release of the perpetrator is the start of a period of fear for their erstwhile victim. Has the Lord Chancellor considered the possibility of extending the restrictions and restraints on those criminals beyond the sentence period they are given in court?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising an issue of deep concern to us all. He will be reassured to know that a range of options is available now to the courts, including restriction orders, serious crime prevention orders and other types of court order, that can prevent the perpetrator from contact or association with his or her victim. I would be happy to discuss the matter further with him. I do not want to add unnecessarily to the statute book, but he will be encouraged, I think, by the provisions in the domestic abuse Bill that will help to knit together the approach we want to take to protect victims of domestic abuse more effectively.

A significant number of prisoners are ex-service personnel, many of them suffering from PTSD. To make sure they do not reoffend, what is being done to help them in prison with their PTSD?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of veterans. It is important to remember that many of our veterans serve in our Prison Service as prison officers, probation officers and other dedicated public servants, and the learning they bring is often the best possible support that can be given to veterans who end up in the criminal justice system. I assure him that a lot of work goes into that issue, but yes more can be done—the identification of veterans is very important, although not the easiest thing to solve—and I take on board his comments and welcome his commitment.