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Reducing Reoffending

Volume 683: debated on Tuesday 3 November 2020

Reoffending is a complex issue, so we need to take a wide-ranging approach. That is why we will invest £20 million in the prison leavers project to test new solutions. We are also making sure that our new prisons have rehabilitation right at their heart. Our programme to build 10,000 additional places, plus two new jails at Wellingborough and Glen Parva, will deliver improved security and better training facilities to help offenders to find employment on release.

May I be the first of the magnificent seven to thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer? Reoffending rates have historically been too high, as many of us are aware from our time in court as advocates or on the magistrates bench. Does he agree that working with organisations and businesses such as the Gelder Group at HMP Lincoln, which has been involved in delivering meaningful training courses to equip those spending time at Her Majesty’s pleasure with useful skills, is the right way to provide inmates with a positive restart to their lives after jail time?

My hon. Friend, who has considerable experience of the justice system in a former capacity, is right to highlight the work of organisations such as the Gelder Group and its great work in delivering training to prisoners in his county. He is also right to identify how transformative training and work can be for serving prisoners and those who are released, and that will involve a cross-Government approach as well. I was delighted to hear recently about the great work of Agile Homes at Her Majesty’s Prison Leyhill, which is not only training men to build homes but helping them to save for their own homes in future through work.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his commitment to the investment in the prison leavers scheme. He will know, however, that not all schemes provide rehabilitation and training. Some schemes, such as the so-called Nottingham Knockers scheme, send out men and ladies who are released prisoners to sell overpriced goods to embarrassed customers, providing humiliation but no training. Will he make sure that the prison leavers scheme has the element of training and rehabilitation that is needed, so that ex-prisoners can have successful lives thereafter?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Without that specialist support, there is a real problem that such matters might become counterproductive. Nottingham Knockers-type activities, as described, are not part of a recognised rehabilitative scheme, so I urge the public to be vigilant. When it comes to authorised schemes, we anticipate spending more than £100 million a year on accredited services.

Social media use in prisons essentially amounts to prisoners reoffending before they have even been let out. It sends a poor message about our criminal justice system that could lead to more reoffending. Will the Lord Chancellor commit to doing everything he can to ensure that those who use social media in prison are robustly punished, and will he be open to increasing and reviewing sentences rather than just giving in-house slap-on-the-wrist punishments?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about the potential impact and the shock that can be caused to members of the public if people who are known to be in custody are communicating and using social media, and prisoners who break the rules should face consequences. The internal adjudication system allows the removal of privileges, stoppage of earnings and confinement to cell, and more serious breaches can be referred to the independent adjudicator, but some crimes committed in prison are clearly so serious that governors will continue to refer those matters to the police.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that prison education in itself is crucial to reducing reoffending?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, because the evidence is that the completion of any prison education reduces reoffending by 7.5%. We plan to strengthen rehabilitation further by creating a prisoner education service that will be focused on work-based training and skills. The Prison Service’s new future network is doing great work to build partnerships between prisons and employers to ensure that prisoners are job ready on release.

Reoffending rates in the Black Country currently stand at around 30%, and it is clear that we need to take a local stakeholder approach. What work is my right hon. and learned Friend doing with local stakeholders in the Black Country to ensure that we can bring reoffending down? Will he meet me to discuss a long-term strategy to tackle reoffending in the Black Country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who speaks with knowledge on this subject, and I would like to thank him and the Mayor, Andy Street, for their continued work on helping to tackle reoffending. We know that offenders typically have complex needs, and the community sentence treatment requirement programme, which went live in the Black Country in June this year, aims to improve access to appropriate mental health and substance misuse services as part of community sentences. Of course I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this and other issues relevant to West Bromwich in detail.

What assessment has my right hon. and learned Friend made of the likely impact of the reduction of rehabilitation periods on reducing reoffending?

My hon. Friend speaks with continuing passion on behalf of his constituents in Blackpool, and he knows that when it comes to improving rehabilitation, employment is a key factor. Reducing the length of time that offences need to be disclosed for most jobs will improve job prospects for people with previous convictions. It not only supports them but protects the public by decreasing the likelihood of reoffending, as there are few better crime-fighting tools than a regular pay cheque.

In my constituency, Jackie Blackwell, the CEO of the citizens advice bureau, and her team provide support for offenders and their families as they transition out of prison. How is the Lord Chancellor supporting charities such as Fine Cell Work and the Irene Taylor Trust, and Jackie and her team, in this vital work?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her passionate work in this area and her advocacy on behalf of the people of Anglesey Ynys Môn. I recognise the value that organisations such as the ones she mentions can bring to supporting offenders and families through a challenging time. Our grants programme supports the piloting of new rehabilitation services and the further development of current programmes. I am delighted to be able to say that both Citizens Advice Ynys Môn’s and the Irene Taylor Trust have benefited from our grants programme, and I look forward to seeing the contributions they make to supporting prison leavers as they make the transition towards a new life.