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Offenders: Giving Back to Communities

Volume 715: debated on Tuesday 24 May 2022

When people have broken the law, and when it is safe and proportionate for them to do so, they should serve their sentences in the community. It is important for them to be seen to be paying back to the communities to whom they have caused harm. We are investing £93 million in community payback staff over the next three years so that we can increase the number of hours worked to a record-breaking 8 million a year.

Justice needs to be seen to be done, not just for victims but for the wider community, so that they can be confident that offenders are not getting away with it. Community payback projects allow for offenders to make reparations to the communities whom they have harmed. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that he will be working to expand such projects across the country?

My hon. Friend is right: people do want to see justice being done, in a visible way, in their communities. I hope that he saw some of the 300-odd gangs of offenders who delivered about 10,000 hours of community work across the country, particularly on environmental schemes, during the recent Keep Britain Tidy spring clean-up week. However, Members of Parliament can also play a part in this project. We do need to increase those hours to 8 million a year, and we need Members’ help in nominating schemes on which we can put offenders to work, so if Members feel like it, I ask them please to go online and look at the Ministry of Justice website. They can nominate a scheme, and we will send some people to do some cleaning up.

Fonmon castle park and gardens, in my constituency, provides a first-class day out for visitors, but will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating those who run it on the partnership that they have established with HM Prison Parc? This offers new opportunities for offenders, while also resolving some of the labour shortages in the area.

I am, of course, happy to celebrate the success of Fonmon castle and its partnership with Parc prison. As my right hon. Friend knows, we believe that employment for offenders is critical to moving them into a better life. Building partnerships of that kind between businesses and prisons is key for the future, and I am pleased to tell my right hon. Friend that Parc prison is in line, in the next year, to have one of our new employment advisory boards, which will bring such partnerships to life across all the UK’s geographies.

Offenders are unlikely to be able to give back to their communities if they find themselves homeless on their release from prison, as I have discovered when supporting people in that situation in my own community. Will the Minister undertake to bring to the House a report indicating the extent to which homelessness among ex-offenders is a fact—which it clearly is—along with an action plan to help constituency Members in all parts of the House to support people when they leave prison so that they can lead a stable existence in their communities and therefore give back?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the provision of a home—of accommodation—for those leaving the secure estate is critical. We believe that there are three pillars to success: a job, a house and a friend to put people on to the straight and narrow. I do not have to publish a report to underline that, because there has been plenty of research to prove that it is the case. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that we do have an action plan, with some challenging targets, to ensure that all those leaving the secure estate can access the accommodation they need to get them back on to the straight and narrow.

Unpaid work gives offenders a chance to give back to their communities, but huge workloads and staff shortages in the probation service mean that in some areas there is a backlog of up to 100,000 hours owed by offenders, and some have even had their hours wiped because they have not been completed in time. Is this not just another example of our broken justice system—a system that lets offenders off while victims pay the price? When will the Government get serious and fix this?

It is very sad that the hon. Lady is not celebrating the achievements of the probation service, which is expanding. We are recruiting 500 new community supervisors so that we can get on top of some of the covid-related backlog in unpaid work. We have to hit 8 million hours and we have thousands of offenders out there in high-vis jackets doing the work, particularly environmental work with organisations such as the Canal & River Trust. When the Prime Minister promoted that scheme, the Opposition condemned it, saying that it was somehow inhuman. Actually, all our communities across the United Kingdom, day in day out, are seeing justice being done by these offenders, and that is set to grow.