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Reducing Reoffending

Volume 715: debated on Tuesday 24 May 2022

The reoffending rate for prisoners who leave prison has fallen by nine percentage points—from 51% to 42%—since 2010. The rate of prison leavers who secure a job within six months has risen by almost two thirds in the past year alone.

Getting prison leavers into work is crucial to reduce reoffending, turn ex-offenders’ lives around, cut crime and protect the public. Employment advisory boards have an important role to play in building links between prisons and local businesses. Will my right hon. Friend update us on progress in this policy area?

My hon. Friend is absolutely bang on. More than half of resettlement prisons now have a business leader who chairs their EAB. That puts us ahead of schedule for our national plan to deliver for every resettlement prison by April next year. To be clear on the results and outcomes we are looking for, let me give one example: at HMP Wandsworth, 39 prison leavers have been helped to find jobs and further training through their board and the prison’s employment team.

As recently as February in my Hyndburn constituency, Lancashire police had to issue dispersal orders in Accrington town centre because of antisocial behaviour. Will my right hon. Friend tell me how we can prevent young people in particular from reoffending or falling into bad habits, particularly when they have been through the youth justice system?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was up in Blackpool last week to announce a £300 million fund that local authorities can access to prevent youth offending. It is called the turnaround project and is targeted at around 20,000 children. The idea is to get them into sports, whether that is boxing or martial arts, or indeed into drama or other positive outlets. By doing that, we can then wraparound the pastoral care and work with the law enforcement agencies. That will not just give those children the opportunity to take a springboard into school, training and, ultimately, work, but keep our streets safer for communities.

My right hon. Friend is right to focus on helping offenders to find work post release, which is crucial to reduce reoffending. Will he update the House on progress made in that respect?

In the last year alone, we have seen a step change in respect of offenders being in work within six months of release from prison; the number has increased by two thirds. The prisons White Paper sets out the strategy. We are rolling out the chairs of employment advisory boards and now have chairs for 48 out of 91 prisons. We have also stood up 29 of the employment hubs in our prisons. Those are the links between prison governors and local businesses that will get offenders into work and to stay on the straight and narrow.

A recent report showed that thousands of severely mentally ill prisoners who had been assessed as requiring hospitalisation were not being transferred because of the shortage of NHS beds, or they were facing long delays. Does the Secretary of State agree with the director of the Prison Reform Trust who said that this guarantees that

“people will leave prison in a worst state than when they came in, with every likelihood that the behaviour that originally led to their arrest and conviction will continue”?

I thank the hon. Lady. I think that there will cross-party support for the work that we are doing with the mental health Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech, absolutely ending prison as a place of safety, if you like, for those with mental health issues and making sure that those who are seriously mentally unwell can be transferred into secure hospitals. I recently met the Health and Social Care Secretary to expedite those arrangements.

Approved premises house the highest risk offenders—terrorists and serious sex offenders—on release from custody. Their location is sensitive both for rehabilitation and protection of the public. Why on earth, therefore, is the Ministry of Justice building approved premises next to the main entrance of Wormwood Scrubs Prison, when the counter-terrorism security assessment lists 18 vulnerabilities, including potential assaults on staff, observation over the prison wall, use of a launch site for drones and undermining rehabilitation? Will the Secretary of State abandon this dangerous and counterproductive scheme?

Approved premises are vital. Of course we take all the requisite security advice on the matter and I am very happy to write to the hon. Member about any of the details. However, may I suggest that he write to me to set out the facts that he asserted, so I can test them very carefully and rebut them very clearly?

Does the Secretary of State agree that more needs to be done to promote programmes that lead to reductions in reoffending rates, particularly in prisons such as Magilligan prison in my constituency, so that the wider community can feel safer as a result of successful programmes?

The hon. Member is right. The prisons White Paper sets out an overhaul of the regime. We want to assess offenders in week one, whether it is for their addiction, mental health or state of mind, or for things such as numeracy, literacy and their educational qualifications. We then want a pathway right the way through that gets them sustainably off drugs, not just abandoned on methadone. We want to give them the skills and education that they need and, fundamentally and critically, a step change in the approach to getting offenders on licence into work. Those are the keys to driving down reoffending beyond the 9 percentage point reduction in reoffending that we have seen from offenders leaving prison compared with the last year of the last Labour Government.