I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
You will know, perhaps more than many in this place, that I am a simple man, Mr Deputy Speaker. Prior to researching this Bill, I had not spent a great deal of time thinking about the criminal justice system or how it worked. I had laboured under the belief that if someone committed a crime, served their time and paid back their debt to society, they would be afforded every opportunity to succeed on their release from prison and make a fresh start. I was disappointed to find out that often that is not the case and many people released from prison, especially those released on Fridays, are almost set up to fail from the moment they set foot outside the prison estate. They face a race against time to access statutory and non-statutory services—to meet their probation officer; visit a pharmacy or a GP; sort out their accommodation—all on a Friday, with services closing early, and with some being a distance away or even impossible to reach by public transport. Many of them therefore end up homeless, with no hope of accessing services until Monday morning at the earliest. So they have nowhere to stay, they have little support and the world is on their shoulders. Is it any surprise that up to two thirds of people released without access to accommodation reoffend within a year.
That race against the clock is maddening. With a third of all releases taking place on a Friday, this is a numbers game, and the numbers are very high indeed: reoffending costs the taxpayer £18 billion a year; and 80% of crime is committed by reoffenders. If we support people as they come out of prison, we can play a key role in reducing the significant societal and individual costs of reoffending, leading to fewer victims of crime and fewer communities dealing with its impact. This Bill is an important step towards doing that. By making a simple change, by varying the date of release for vulnerable people by up to 48 hours, we can relieve that time pressure and give people the opportunity to make a fresh start. This small but significant change would build on existing Government funding and support for people coming out of prison, including the funding of temporary accommodation for prison leavers at risk of homelessness. We need to end the practice of Friday releases for the most vulnerable, so that they have the vital extra hours and days they need to get support in place before the weekend arrives. This move is supported by charities, the third sector, those working in prisons, the probation service and the Local Government Association, and by former offenders who have been through the system. If the House will indulge me, I will pepper this speech with examples from a few of them.
Last month, I was fortunate enough to visit Wormwood Scrubs in London, to see Governor Frost and her team. It was a fascinating and eye-opening visit, and I am grateful for the time she and her team, and the brilliant third sector organisations, such as StandOut, afforded to accommodate me and answer some of my banal questions. Entering a prison, certainly one such as Wormwood Scrubs, feels very final indeed. You walk through a set of remarkable Victorian buildings and the first thing you notice is how solid the place is. There are big, thick walls, and heavy, metal doors. Everything is contained and segregated by keys. Each door is opened ahead of you and closes behind you, with a click. Your choices are limited to the space you have access to. The outside world, even though you can see it above and through the windows, feels maddeningly far away. As Governor Frost explained to me, when you leave a prison like the Scrubs, setting foot outside the estate for the first time, you face the
“first independent choice you can make in a while.”
If someone is released on a Friday, they have precious little time to make those choices and if they choose poorly, they may well find themselves back in prison. Some would rather see their family than comply with appointments, for some their addiction takes priority and others simply do not have time to make their appointments, with no chance of getting from point A to point B in the remaining hours of the day. When someone resides in Wormwood Scrubs at His Majesty’s pleasure, is released at 3pm on Friday and then has to see their parole officer in Cambridge that same day, what chance do they realistically have of making that appointment before 5 pm?
I have spoken to prison leavers who were released from custody on a Friday. Some were lucky and managed to get support, but the majority were left facing severe issues with access to key resettlement services. Some ended up on the streets over the weekend while waiting for housing services to reopen on the Monday. Even worse, some people I have spoken to were greeted at the prison gates by the smiling face of their drug dealer. Criminal gangs know just how hard it can be for people to work through their release checklist, meet their parole officer, sort their housing, go to the pharmacy and so on, so they offer a handout—one that comes at a very steep cost. So the merry-go-round continues: the person is recalled to prison, and it all begins again.
I am on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which is undertaking an inquiry into drugs. In Middlesbrough earlier this year, we spoke to addicts and people in recovery about their life stories. The same issue came up time and again. Their experience is addiction, prison, release, shoplifting and other petty crimes, and imprisonment again. At no point does the process help them, their family or those who work in criminal justice. Nor does it help society. In my constituency, I have spoken to Cumbria police and the amazing Well Communities and have seen these issues time and again.
The nature of unstable releases means further addiction and ripe pickings for drugs gangs involved in county lines —the exact opposite of the outcome from imprisonment and rehabilitation that we might hope for. The chair of the Local Government Association’s safer and stronger communities board, Councillor Caliskan, says:
“With staff limitations at the weekend across a range of services, delays in accessing accommodation and a lack of early intervention from support services, vulnerable prison-leavers are at considerable risk of reoffending. In bringing release dates forward, this will ensure prison-leavers have enough time to access the right help and support to prevent them heading back towards previous criminal activities.”
I could not agree more.
If we want safer streets, we have to start by making access easier to vital services that reduce offending. If people do not have the support structure, including housing and healthcare, that they need in place on release, we simply risk depositing vulnerable people back in the hands of those who encourage harm over good. When I visited Wormwood Scrubs, the governor and her amazing team made that point again and again.
If the House will indulge me, I will read the testimony of Stanley, which was supplied by the fantastic charity Nacro. These are Stanley’s words:
“The biggest problem is not having a roof over your head. So many people come straight out of prison with nowhere to live and go straight on the streets. They have nowhere to go, nothing to do and end up doing something stupid just to go back inside.
When you come out, there’s nothing. No phone, no money, no ID, and if you don’t have someone helping you—you’re alone.
Me—I’d lost weight in prison. My jeans don’t fit and I don’t have a belt. It was freezing and I had no jumper. Yet I couldn’t get my advance payment because I didn’t have any ID. They told me to come to the job centre to sort it out on the Monday, but what am I going to do over the weekend? And I’m supposed to start work on Monday, and that’s not a good look, making excuses on your first day. We’re being set up to fail. 99% will go back to prison because they have no choice.
I came out of prison homeless. They’ve known I’d be released homeless for months. Yet, released on a Friday, it’s getting late in the afternoon, and I still have nowhere to go. And the housing officer has now gone for the weekend. No wonder people reoffend.
I’ve got an appointment with substance misuse services, but they can’t see me until Monday. But I’m supposed to start my job on Monday. And I can’t get an advance payment for UC because I don’t have any ID. They told me to come and see them on Monday instead. So now I’m faced with the weekend, with just the discharge grant to my name. I need to buy myself some winter clothes—it’s freezing—and I need to eat.
I’ve got hospital appointments. I take 6 different types of pills. I’m starting a job on Monday and can’t go to the job centre on my first day of work. This is what people have to deal with all the time.”
This is a comment from the Nacro resettlement worker who met Stanley:
“The holding cell on a Friday is rammed as such a high proportion of people in prison are released in Friday. It’s made worse by those whose release dates were set for the weekend, and are being released on a Friday instead. The pressure on the prisons and resettlement services is incredible. Yet, so many are being released without any support. Nothing. They don’t know who their probation officer is. Where they need to go. What they need to do. And on a Friday, it’s a race against the clock before services close.
“Unfortunately, for those without housing, the only option on a Friday is emergency accommodation if that is available. And then that person will have to through the whole process again on the Monday, all the while trying to get to a whole range of other appointments. And UC throws up another obstacle. Anyone who has been in and out of prison and has claimed an advancement payment after a previous release, is no longer eligible for another advance payment. Released on a Friday with just the discharge grant, those impacted are faced with a long weekend with just £76 pounds to their name.”
For many offenders, the day of release from custody is a realisation of a long-awaited goal: a chance to turn their backs on crime for good. But the reality for those released on Friday can be fraught with practical challenges to surmount. Those who need access to multiple support services before they close for the day, including local authority housing and mental health services, can face a race against the clock. Many services close early and are then shut over the weekend. Approximately a third of all releases fall on a Friday, so those services are under considerable additional pressure.
I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent speech. In the light of all his research and discussions to prepare his private Member’s Bill, why does he think these principles have not been adhered to before? The points he is making are so clear and obvious, so why, given all the attendant problems that come from Friday releases, is there a particular emphasis on them?
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South for his comments—I did well there; I do not usually get the constituencies right. The honest answer is that I do not know. Certainly, in the data that was brought out during covid specifically, we saw the impact of that. StandOut and a number of other good charities have raised this issue since then, and Nacro—the charity that supplied some of the case studies I have been using—has done some really effective campaigning on it. Like many of the things we see in this place and in our daily jobs representing our constituents, we often need to make maddeningly small changes to systems all over the place to improve people’s lot. This is one of those changes, and for that reason, I hope we can get it through.
As a barrister myself, I am aware, as other Members may be, that a sentence is calculated in days from the date on which it is given. If the date of release happens to fall on a Saturday or Sunday, it is then brought back to the Friday, which explains why Friday has ended up being the most popular day in the week. Does my hon. Friend agree that he is seeking to correct an unintended consequence and right an obvious wrong?
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. This is a factor of people’s releases falling on weekends or bank holidays and compressing almost a third of releases to Fridays. That is a real problem, as I have outlined.
As I have said, the reoffending rate for adults released on a Friday is higher than for any other day of the week. Those without stable accommodation on release are almost two thirds more likely to reoffend. Let us take the example of Simon—I am not referring to myself here. Simon was released from a London prison in April 2021. He has had a history of poor mental health and alcohol dependency. Owing to his complex needs, he met the threshold for priority housing. On the Friday when he was released, he received a phone call at 3 pm saying that no accommodation could be provided, despite the fact that his resettlement worker repeatedly chased the local authority housing department. It was agreed that Simon would travel to stay with his brother in Ipswich, but he did not make the journey. Simon’s resettlement worker rang several times that Friday evening, and it sounded as if Simon was with people, drinking on the streets. The resettlement worker was later advised that Simon had been recalled to prison shortly afterwards.
Then there is the example of Patrick, who was released from a two-year sentence in prison. He had an ankle injury and was supplied with crutches upon his release, which limited his mobility and therefore his ability to navigate multiple appointments across the area he was in. Although he was able to access his temporary accommodation that day, he was unable to address his other support needs on the day of release, such as his substance misuse issue. As a result, he had to wait until the following Monday to access support, which put him at significant further risk of reoffending. Patrick did not engage with services the following week and was recalled to prison shortly afterwards for failing to attend probation appointments.
By removing these barriers that a Friday release can create, we can ensure that custody leavers have a better chance to access the support they need to reintegrate into the community, so that the victims and the public are protected. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) said, the law currently mandates that offenders due to be released on a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday must be released on the preceding Friday, providing it is a working day. While that avoids releases on days when services are completely closed, the result is a bunching of releases on a Friday, with almost double the number on any other day of the week.
The Bill seeks to amend the law to provide the Secretary of State for Justice with a discretionary power to bring forward the release date of an offender by up to two eligible working days where that release date falls on a Friday or the day before a bank holiday. Such a power will promote law-abiding reintegration into society by ensuring that those leaving custody can access the support services they need upon release.
In practice, this power will be delegated to the prison governor or an equivalent official, with the provision targeted at those most at risk of reoffending. To be clear, we are not talking about dangerous or high-risk offenders, and there will be strict security screening of eligible prisoners. The Bill is aimed at helping vulnerable individuals with complex needs who may need additional support to help them make the transition back to life outside prison.
There is a fleeting window of opportunity for people on release from prison, and we simply must not allow those who are serious about making a positive and meaningful change in their lives to fall by the wayside. We should not be setting people up to fail. This is not about softening sentencing; it is about making sure that the right support is in place at the right time to prevent them from immediately falling through the cracks.
Evidence suggests that a Friday release day has a disproportionate impact on those with complex needs, those who have greater distances to travel upon release or those with substance or mental health needs, who face an increased risk of homelessness. Ministry of Justice research has shown that the release date can make a 5% difference in the likelihood of reoffending, with 35% of those freed on a Monday reconvicted within a year, compared with 40% on a Friday. Let us not forget that each of the individuals in that 5% represents a further unnecessary strain on the already stretched capacity of the prisons estate. More crime means more victims, and each of these instances of reoffending represents lost opportunities for reform after people have served their time and should be able to demonstrate their ability to rejoin and fully contribute to society.
Here is another example from Katie, a reducing reoffending officer from Nacro:
“In the past I have worked with many offenders who have been released on a Friday. Essex is a big area that includes 14 local authorities. HMP Chelmsford is a local Cat B resettlement prison, we have many prisoners that are in and out of custody on a regular basis.
Recently I worked with a man that has been in HMP Chelmsford approximately 7 times since I started the job in April 2019. This time he was released on a Friday. He has addiction issues and had been homeless for several years. Due to short prison sentences, we have been unable to do any meaningful work with him. My client had a probation appointment at 2pm in Colchester, a scripting appointment for his methadone at 3pm and a housing assessment that had to be completed over the phone at 2.30pm. At some point he also needed to make his Universal Credit claim, again over the phone due to Covid. He was released with his mobile phone that he had when he was brought into custody. No charge and no credit.
Luckily he made his probation appointment, which took over an hour as he had a new probation officer, that he had not met before. He missed both his scripting appointment and his housing assessment. Most probation officers are mindful of other appointments on day of release, and will offer some leeway if they are aware of conflicting appointments, but this involves our service users speaking out, and some aren’t too good at making their voices heard, especially when they are fearful of upsetting their probation officer and being recalled.
Friday releases often require our clients to prioritise their appointments and what is important to them. Unfortunately they don’t always prioritise the right thing. Some would rather see their family than comply with appointments, for some their addiction takes priority.”
For under-18s, a Friday release may mean a child going for two or even three days without meaningful contact with support services when they are at their most vulnerable. That is why the Bill applies to both adults and children sentenced to detention and will ensure the same provisions exist across the youth estate. This overdue change will bring consistency across the youth estate and, in respect of secure children’s homes, correct a long-standing omission. It is worth remembering that 15% of under-18s are imprisoned more than 100 miles from their homes, with 41% more than 50 miles away. It goes without saying that this poses an additional, significant challenge for some of the most at risk who leave detention.
I recognise that the Government are doing fantastic work to reduce reoffending and protect the public—work that will benefit all custody leavers. Several new roles, including housing specialists, prison employment leads, banking leads and neurodiversity support managers—that’s a mouthful—are being implemented, which will further benefit individuals to prepare for release by ensuring they have a roof over their head, meaningful employment or education in place and access to essentials such as a bank account or identification.
Picking up on my hon. Friend’s point, I am pleased to hear that the Government have introduced a number of key measures to reduce reoffending. From his research, the conversations he has had and his position on the Home Affairs Committee, does he feel that the range of services on offer to people immediately after they come out of prison are in themselves correct and of a good standard? Is the issue we are debating today therefore the actual access to those services on a Friday, or is he concerned that more could be done to improve the services for those coming out of prison?
Once again, I thank my hon. Friend for a very thoughtful intervention. He tempts me to go far beyond the bounds of this Bill. My view is that there are multiple challenges here. Just as people are infinitely complex and different, the services that exist in local authorities and on the prison estate around the country vary significantly. They could all be resourced more and better. That is a challenge that, sadly, I cannot quite meet in this Bill, but it is one we need to address. The key point that has come through my research is access to accommodation. If we can stop people being street homeless on release, we can really make a positive impact on their lives. If someone has the basics in place when they need them, they are less likely to reoffend, which means fewer victims of crime and safer communities.
It is worth considering what the wider pressures are on the system on Fridays. While prisoners are being released, others are being prepared for court. Later in the day, higher numbers of people are released due to those court appearances. Already pressurised housing services, offender managers, GPs and pharmacies face a surge in the closing hours of the closing day of the week, but all of this is avoidable.
By supporting this Bill, the House has the opportunity to provide offenders with vital extra time to meet their probation or supervising officer and access healthcare and other services ahead of the weekend, helping to cut crime and, ultimately, making our streets safer. The Bill will help to safeguard the public by taking away a large part of the driver that leads to reoffending, driven by these cliff-edge releases. I sincerely hope the House will agree that by making the simple change proposed by the Bill—varying the date of release for vulnerable people by up to 48 hours—we can relieve that time pressure, take away that cliff edge and give people the best opportunity to make a fresh start.
I will draw to a close with a quote from my good friend John Bird, the founder of The Big Issue, who was kind enough earlier this year to take the time to come to Barrow and pay a visit to The Well Communities, which is a fantastic local charity that faces the sharp end of many of these issues. Lord Bird said:
“I know from when I was homeless the deep and interconnecting link between prison and the streets. We need to break that link to have any hope of stopping this endless cycle of releasing people homeless and seeing them go back into prison. Ending Friday releases, with the linked increased risk of homelessness, is one positive move towards that.”
I find that my life is always easier when I listen to John, so I suggest it is a worthwhile thing for other Members to do. It seems to me that if we are serious about justice, about helping people to rebuild stable and rewarding lives, about relieving prison capacity, about improving outcomes and about reducing reoffending, passing the Bill is an important step in the right direction.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell), who gave an absolutely fantastic justification for the Bill. He was so articulate and measured in the way he put forward his argument that it makes it nigh on impossible not to support the Bill, given his efforts. I pay tribute to him for his work in this area, and for his work on the Home Affairs Committee. I know he has been a doughty voice on this issue for a considerable amount of time, and today we have seen the culmination of a considerable amount of work by him.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness for bringing the Bill forward, and he really hit the nail on the head when he talked about what it is. It is a technical and quite minor change to the existing legislation, and it does not require significant spend from the Treasury. Having reviewed it, I do not think the Bill requires a money resolution at all, so it seems a very straightforward piece of legislation, but it will have a considerable impact, which, ultimately, is what this is about.
Although the Bill might be a somewhat technical change, as we say, to existing legislation, it will have an absolutely profound impact on the broader society, on our communities, on the people we are here to serve, and on those who perhaps want a second chance more than anything else. From that perspective, it makes absolute sense for the Bill to pass its Second Reading. As Members can probably tell from my comments, I will support the Bill wholeheartedly as it passes its stages in this place, but I will talk a bit more about its impacts.
I, too, met representatives of Nacro last year and had a really interesting discussion about the impact of Friday releases, particularly on youth offenders. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness touched on the issue in his comments, and I wish to bring it to the forefront of the debate. I cannot compute what that impact feels like for the 15% of incarcerated or imprisoned children who are held 100 miles away from where they live. More often than not, they find themselves in that situation because of other underlying factors in their life. They are often a young person with real vulnerabilities, who has effectively been left to society. Unfortunately, as a result, they have found themselves in horrendous situations that have ultimately led them to break the law and end up in custody. I cannot compute how much the longer-term impacts on a child are compounded by this situation. Some Members will have children of a similar age—I am not a parent, but imagine having a child who is 100 miles away from home, who has been through the system for two or three years, or even longer, on their own. Let us not brush this under the carpet: it is a tough environment for someone to come out of and effectively feel like they are on their own. More often than not, the young people who are going through the system—my hon. Friend touched on it, but I will tweak that a bit—are not being met at the gate by a familiar person with a loving smile ready to take them somewhere. They are on their own, or they are having to go back through the system.
That leads me to a broader question: what are we really trying to achieve in our criminal justice system? Within the confines of the Bill—I am not going to opine philosophically on that, Mr Deputy Speaker—one point springs to mind that could address what opponents of the Bill might say, although I cannot see that there would be many, if any, given how straightforward and practical it is. There is a balance between, on the one hand, the perception that that individual has served their time and, on the other hand, having a system that practically works.
Effectively, we are talking about tweaking things by a matter of days to ensure that we do not just throw someone out into the world without a support mechanism. If we truly want to see the readmission into society of people who know that they have broken the law but who have gone through our prison system as a result, served their punishment and done their time, and if we want them to become proactive members of society, surely we have to give them a chance on day one to start in the right way. That is common sense.
If they need access to a probation officer, that means making sure that they can access one. They might also need an advance payment so that they can get new clothes. My hon. Friend gave a vivid example that highlighted the problem of an individual whose clothes no longer fitted them when they came out, and it was cold and they needed to figure out where they were going to go and what they were going to do.
More often than not, when we are debating in the comfort of this Chamber, things can become quite abstract and we forget that we are talking about human beings and people’s lives. We have to remember that these people often want to reintegrate into society, but they need practical support to do that. Many of them are not asking for us to sort them out. They want to contribute, to go to work, to pay it back and to get on with their lives, but if we have a ridiculous situation where they are effectively thrown out on the street at 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon and told, “Right, get on with it,” how on earth can we realistically expect them to have a chance? What my hon. Friend is trying to achieve with his Bill, therefore, is at the core of what all hon. Members believe: let us at least give someone a decent chance to have a go and an opportunity to make a start. Again, that is common sense.
I will touch on the practicalities in prisons, particularly on a Friday. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), who practised as a distinguished barrister for many years, knows the intricate nature of the system full well, as will many other hon. Members. The administrative pressures in prisons on Fridays are acute. Often, there are people being prepared to go to court. If there are people who have hearings in front of judges, either the following week or sometimes over the weekend, they would be held there in preparation for those hearings.
On top of that, the situation is compounded by the pressure of significant numbers of people being processed for release on the same day. What we have effectively in that process, therefore, is almost like a pressure cooker. It builds up and up, and there is no way realistically to properly track how things are being monitored and managed. Staff have to effectively get people out because there needs to be turnover in the system. That is not to be seen as a criticism in any way, shape or form of the hard-working people in our prison system—they have to work with the systems and processes they have—but if we can alleviate the pressure on them with the small minor change that this legislation seeks to achieve, it makes perfect sense to do that. We know that, when people are under that amount of pressure, it is impossible to know exactly who is where, who is collecting who and how that impacts on so and so and to link with those agencies. The volume and pressure they are dealing with are so impacted and compounded, it is just not possible.
The other point I want to make on support relates to older offenders. When someone is coming out of prison after a significant amount of time, it is into unfamiliar surroundings and a system, a world and, in many respects, probably a society that have totally changed. That impacts not just on the practicalities of getting from A to B, but on them personally and their mental health. It might sound straightforward to say to someone who has perhaps come out of prison after 15 or 20 years, “Begone, get on the train to see your probation officer at 3 o’clock”, but it is not. That is particularly so when we add the fact that they are being released on a Friday, when these support services are not there, so any hope that this person may be able to get some degree of support is reduced—not eliminated, but reduced—and that again adds to the pressures.
From the perspective of ensuring reintegration, which is the overarching angle of the point I am trying to make, it is so important that we enable people to at least have a chance to access our support services and meet their own obligations, too, particularly the need to meet a probation officer or support officer, or any other condition attached to their release. If there are conditions attached to release, by releasing individuals on a Friday, we are not even giving them a chance to meet those conditions in the first place. From that perspective, the idea of fair play—as in, this person has done their part, so the state needs to do its part, too—is just not there in the current system, and that is another thing that the Bill seeks to address.
The other key perspective from an administrative point of view is how this power is delegated. In the legislation, that power would sit with the Secretary of State and would then flow through. Practically, it is likely that governors of prisons and directors of private prisons would be the ones exercising the power on a day-to-day basis, and that is absolutely right, because within the broader prison system and organisation, it is exactly those people who know the prisons. It comes back to my earlier point, which is that we are dealing ultimately with human beings. It is vital, therefore, that we leverage the existing relationships that prisons have with their prisoners, utilising the knowledge and skills of those who know them best to ensure that we can tailor release dates that work for them, clearly in line with the sentences handed down.
Having the practical function of this power executed and managed by prison governors, with the prison staff underneath them feeding into that process, is absolutely right. It will enable us to ensure that the process is dealt with through the people with the best knowledge to manage it and ensure that individuals are identified in the right way. From that perspective of the Bill, it is absolutely right that we handle this in that way.
Of course, the overarching theme of my contribution is about giving people a fair go once they have left prison, and to me that is the core of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness touched on substance misuse as a real driver of reoffending and made the vivid point about people often being met at the prison gate, not by someone they know or a family member, but by their drug dealer.
The broader point about linking with support services—Nacro does an amazing job there, and I really commend its work—is a vital thread of this legislation. By enabling discretion on the timings of release, it allows us not only to mitigate exactly what my hon. Friend talked about, but to stand up the services to tackle the problem of substance abuse. I know from my own experience in my communities in West Bromwich West that that has been a real driver of crime and offending rates, particularly short-term offending, which is acutely impacted, in the research I have seen, by the issues the Bill seeks to tackle.
The Bill will enable us to ensure that, from a pragmatic point of view, we are eliminating—or at least making our best efforts to eliminate—the scenario of someone being met by their drug dealer at the gate, by enabling the discretion for their release to be timed in the right way. It at least gives that person a chance. It may sound as though I have portrayed a land of milk and honey here, so let me be clear: this legislation would not eliminate reoffending completely. There is always a degree of personal responsibility. It will also not entirely eliminate Friday release, because there may be good reasons why a prison governor allows it, or a sentence expires on that day and it works out in practical terms.
To be abundantly clear, I am aware that a technical change will not suddenly solve all the problems of reoffending, but to me, this is a vital but understated part of the broader machinery for dealing with them. I have just said it will not eliminate reoffending; there is a degree of personal responsibility and broader societal issues, which are outside the scope of the Bill, but which we must continue to work on. However, at least this Bill is an opportunity to give people a fair go and eliminate a technical construction that has exacerbated those issues.
To sum up, I think this Bill is pragmatic in what it seeks to do. It seeks to address an issue that may be understated, but none the less has an acute impact on prisoners affected by Friday releases. It enables people to access vital services, to start the road to reintegration and to get the support they need—or at least it provides the opportunity for that, and that is so important.
As I said, the Bill will not solve the broader issues with reoffending rates, but it is a part of that patchwork that we need to keep developing. It is part of the broader conversation we need to have. It is absolutely right that the mechanics of the Bill allow its application to be pragmatic, which I very much support. The people who know prisoners best are those who work with them during their time in prison.
At the heart of the Bill is giving a fair chance to people who want to turn their life around, which is something we can all wholeheartedly get behind.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) on his articulate speech. He did not use notes, which I will try to replicate.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on introducing the Bill. Before I came here on the train, I looked at the Bills on the Order Paper, and it occurred to me that this Bill might seem simple, but who knew that releasing prisoners on a Friday has the unintended consequence—my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) mentioned unintended consequences—of a greater chance of reoffending? That surprised me.
I fully support the Bill, and I hope the Government do, too. The comments of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West resonated with me on a personal level. I am not an offender, but I grew up in quite a deprived area of Batley and Dewsbury. I had a friend from an early age who, as a late teenager, committed quite a serious crime that, unfortunately, led to his imprisonment. We went our separate ways. He spent quite a number of years in prison. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West spoke about giving people a second chance, and prison gave this friend a second chance. He turned his life around, but it astonishes me that, had he been released on a Friday, it might not have happened. That is an important point about this Bill.
This friend is now a member of the same gym as me, The Muscle Pit in Dewsbury—“Muscle Pit” is obviously a contradiction in terms as far as I am concerned. My hon. Friends the Members for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) and for West Bromwich West are both gym members.
Ultimately, we need to give offenders every chance we can. It is a problem if releasing them on a certain day of the week does not help. That problem has been well addressed today, for which I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness.
There are statistics on reoffending, and my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West alluded to the fact that not everyone will stop reoffending if we release them on a Monday instead of a Friday, but we should do everything we can to help the statistics. There are resources available to support people released from prison in reducing their risk of reoffending.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness has been working with Switchback, an award-winning resettlement charity in London, and it has highlighted the Ministry of Justice data showing that more than 50,000 people are released from prison each year, and of those 40% are reconvicted. That is 20,000 people, which is far too many. Just one in 10 gains work, which is 5,000. What happens to the other 25,000? Reoffending costs society and the taxpayer an estimated £18 billion a year. Switchback found that, in London, two in three were released homeless. One in four had no ID, bank account or phone, so they were out of the system.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, in supporting the Bill, Lord Bird has commented that the link between prison and homelessness is critical and that the Bill is a step towards breaking that link?
I was not aware of those specific comments, but obviously we do not want people sleeping on the streets or rough sleeping. I pay tribute to Kirklees Council and its rough sleeping team. If the Bill alleviated the problem, that would be a benefit, so it should be brought forward. I thank my hon. Friend for that.
Nacro, which has campaigned on this matter since 2018, has also called for an end to Friday releases. It suggests that more than a third of prison leavers are released on a Friday, which piles pressure on to offender managers, responsible officers, local housing authorities, accommodation providers, Jobcentre Plus officers and other community services. I suggest that the impact is wider than just the public sector and those offering such services.
I would like to name-check a number of charities that also want to help offenders. The Blast Foundation equips offenders, ex-offenders and their families to prepare for reintegration into lawful society through mentoring and training. Choices is a counselling service for those facing unplanned pregnancy and child separation. Moving on from what was said by my hon. Friend, HTB shelter and night shelters provide a safe place for rough sleepers in London. Mind provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing mental health problems. One in Four supports people who have experienced child sexual abuse and trauma, and Prison Fellowship works through its volunteer members to support prisoners in a number of ways. Prisoners and offenders need access to those services as they come back into society. If they cannot have that on a weekend, of course they are more likely to be stood at the prison gates and tempted by the drug dealers and people who want them not to rehabilitate themselves—obviously, from a financial point of view, that would not help them.
A final organisation that I have much admiration for when it comes to prisoners and rehabilitation is Timpson, which does dry cleaning. It does my dry cleaning, although my suit probably needs to go back there next week—you will be pleased to know that I will bring in another suit next week, Mr Deputy Speaker. Timpson does great work with offenders—it has been known to meet offenders at the gates. It may not do that on a Friday—obviously it works on a six-days-a-week basis—but it is there to help stop reoffending.
My hon. Friend is making a characteristically articulate speech, so I want to say well done for that; it is fantastic. He has mentioned a number of charities and third-party organisations. Does he agree that one of the good things about the Bill and the practical use of its discretion is that, as I touched on in my contribution, it enables a bit of forward planning? If we could enable further engagement with those organisations, we could plan a proper release strategy for prisoners, to at least try to mitigate some of exactly what he is articulating.
Absolutely. These organisations are fully prepared to help people to reintegrate into society. Finally on Timpson, I have talked to people who work in its high street shops, and they do great work in this area. The only thing that they do not train offenders in is key cutting—for obvious reasons.
We have mentioned that Fridays are busy days in prison, which often results in delayed release. There is a higher volume of prison leavers, and those going to court are prioritised over those due for release, leading to later releases. There is less time to contact support services, as has been mentioned. That can lead to homelessness, which has a special impact on women and young people. Women are held, on average, 63 miles from home, but many are held 100 miles away or more. Eleven per cent. of children in custody are held over 100 miles from home, and 35% are held more than 50 miles away.
Services in the community may offer reduced services on Fridays, and reduced or no services over the weekend. That means that the window for prison leavers to obtain support from those services is incredibly limited on a Friday. Delays can mean that those people cannot access the support they need. That obviously leads to an increased risk of reoffending and sets them up to fail. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West alluded to, everyone should be given a second chance. We do not want people to fail and go back into the prison system. The high number of releases on Fridays puts unnecessary pressure on services, especially on bank holidays, which we have not mentioned. If someone has a Friday release and the Monday—or, on certain special occasions, Tuesday—is a bank holiday, the prisoner is left to their own devices and at risk. That needs to be taken into account in this Bill.
In conclusion, we need to support the Bill to help those who genuinely want to re-engage with society, to enable them to access the support available and to reduce the risk of reoffending due to lack of support and, therefore, reduce pressures on criminal justice services, so that they can adequately support more people. Finally, I congratulate the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness on presenting this Bill. He has my full support.
The shadow Minister has indicated that she would like to speak next, and I am more than happy to comply with her wishes.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on introducing this important Bill. I thank Nacro for its campaigning work on this issue and the vital support it provides to prison leavers. As the hon. Member outlined, the Bill will allow the earlier release, by up to two days, of people in prison with high resettlement needs who are due to be released from prison on a Friday or the day before a bank holiday.
It will be no surprise to the Government that Labour supports the Bill wholeheartedly, not least because we tried to legislate for this last year. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) tabled an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 that would have provided this much-needed flexibility for Friday releases, but the Government at the time refused to support it. I am glad that they have now seen sense and recognise the value in Labour’s proposals—because let’s us face it, these proposals are common sense.
As the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness explained, prisoners released on a Friday face an almost impossible race against the clock to get all the support that they need in place before the weekend. In many cases, they are simply unable to access the same support as those released earlier in the week, because many crucial resettlement agencies run a reduced service on Fridays and no service over the weekend.
That means that prison leavers might end up sleeping rough or in unsuitable housing. They may be left for the weekend, unable to access important medication and health support, such as in the case of M, who was released on Friday before a bank holiday weekend after serving a year in custody. He had an addiction to heroin but, when released, was not given the prescription charts from the prison that were needed to determine the dose of methadone he needed. He was also not given a bridging prescription. As it was late afternoon on Friday, the GP from the substance misuse service had left, and M and his resettlement broker were unable to get his medication. He was vulnerable and entitled to priority housing, but the local authority did not deem him to be in priority need because it was a Friday afternoon. He did not have time to gather the further evidence that was needed to prove what he had said before the weekend. He spent the weekend sleeping in a known drug house and ended up using heroin. As part of his licensed conditions, he was required to give a blood sample and, lo and behold, he tested positive for drug use. Had he been released earlier in the week, he would have accessed the housing and medical support that he needed to help in his resettlement.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) has noted previously in Committee, Members of this House will be especially familiar with this matter. I am sure that many of us have experienced the same difficulties in getting the necessary support for our constituents in need last thing on a Friday, just as agencies and services are closing for the weekend. Indeed, very recently, I went with a constituent in housing need to my local town hall just to ensure that they were given the services that they needed. From my earlier life as a criminal practitioner who both prosecuted and defended, I can tell Members of the cases that were heard on a Saturday in the emergency court of people who had been released from prison and were back in court again because they had nowhere else to go. It was better to commit a minor offence, be arrested and be kept in a prison cell where they at least had a warm bed and three square meals. That was a better option for them.
We know that around 400 people continue to be released from prison, every month, directly into homelessness. Only 30% of people receiving treatment services while in prison are successfully transferred to the community on release. I hope that the changes proposed in the Bill will contribute to improving those worrying numbers. There is a window of opportunity for people when they are released from prison. That is when they are keen to move on and rebuild their lives outside prison. We should be seizing that opportunity by making the transition as easy as possible to give them the best chance of success and thus decrease the likelihood of their reoffending as much as possible.
The Government conceded in the summer that, under the current system, Friday releases can end up with ex-offenders spending their first days on the streets with little in the way of support, increasing the likelihood that they will commit further crimes, and they committed to legislate when time allows. However, under this Government, reoffending rates have remained stubbornly high, and the refusal to legislate for this change until now, and doing so through a private Member’s Bill, is evidence of how far this has fallen down the priority list of the Ministry of Justice.
The chaos and ministerial musical chairs that has been going on across Government over the past number of years has meant that, in the intervening months, thousands more prisoners have been released on Fridays and have been set up to fail. We are glad that the changes are coming and are pleased to support them, but it is a shame that the Government took so long to listen and to act.
On a final note, the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, the right hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), who replied to the previous debate, made what I would call a really gratuitous political statement about how few Labour Members were present for today’s debates. The reason for that is that we agreed with the first Bill debated today and we agree with this Bill. The reason why there are so many Members on the Conservative Benches is that they are trying to talk out the last Bill that will be reached today. I do not think that Members should be making those comments.
I agree with some of what the hon. Lady has said. However, on the point about participation, I get what she is saying, but, surely, if Labour Members were so enthusiastic, they would be here in the Chamber. The hon. Lady is here because she clearly supports the Bill. Where are her colleagues?
My colleagues have no objections to these Bills. The reason that Government Members are taking so long on this issue is that they are trying to talk out the last Bill listed for today.
That is it. I will take no further interventions.
I take real exception to what the hon. Lady is saying. I have seen at first hand the impact of this in my own community, and I have spoken to a number of charities. [Interruption.] Let me take the heat out of this. This is a common-sense Bill. We all agree on that. We have all seen the impact of this. Regardless of the back and forth—although, Mr Deputy Speaker, my contribution was not included—let us just agree that it is a great Bill; it makes sense, so let us just get on and support it. It is as simple as that. Does she not agree with that?
I agree. Indeed, I started off by saying that we support the Bill. Not only do we support it today, but we have been supporting it since last year, when we tabled an amendment on this.
Has the shadow Minister completed her speech?
In which case, I call Mr Baynes.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It gives me great pleasure to speak on Second Reading in support of the important Bill brought to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell). In making my remarks, I am very mindful of the fact that HMP Berwyn is in the next-door constituency to mine, that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton). As the neighbouring MP, who also represents half of Wrexham County Borough Council, let me say that HMP Berwyn is of great significance and importance to my constituents as well, not least those who work in the prison. Last year, I had the honour of going round the prison with some fellow MPs from north Wales and I saw the excellent way it is run. It was established relatively recently, so some far-reaching and innovative ideas have been able to be implemented on how we lead prisoners back into a rehabilitated life after leaving prison, which is of course at the core of why we are debating this issue today.
I would also like to make the point to the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), who is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, that Conservative Members take this issue seriously, as we did the previous private Member’s Bill. This is an opportunity for Back Benchers, as opposed to Front Benchers such as her, to express our concerns and those of our constituents. I am sure that she would support our having a vibrant democratic approach to the life of this Parliament and this Chamber.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness has articulated so well, Friday releases come with a range of complications for those who have completed their custodial sentences. When somebody leaves prison, they should ideally have the following things in place: somewhere to live, a point he made particularly eloquently; financial support; access to the basic essentials; access to healthcare and mental health or substance misuse services; and support and someone to turn to. In an ideal world, all those services should be in place. If they are in place or largely in place, the risk of reoffending will be substantially reduced. As has been discussed in this debate, about one in three offenders currently leaves prison on a Friday. Releasing prisoners on a Friday, as is common, reduces a released offender’s access to all those basic principles I have outlined, with those things often delayed until Monday of the following week. Significantly, adult offenders without stable accommodation on release from prison are almost 50% more likely to reoffend and it is clear that access to accommodation is important. Probably, as my hon Friend said, it is of paramount importance in helping offenders to access both employment and training opportunities, which may support their rehabilitation.
Friday releases demonstrably threaten the likelihood of an offender’s release to stable accommodation and a smooth transition back into society. Currently, section 23 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 provides that detained offenders who would otherwise be released on weekends, bank holidays or public holidays are to be released on the preceding day—a Friday or the day before a bank holiday or public holiday. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) discovered from her career as a criminal barrister, there are, to an extent, unintended consequences involved in this. Offenders would have only the rest of the day to access services and arrange accommodation, given that the providers of services and accommodation would probably be closed on non-working days. They would have to wait until the next working day, which might be in several days’ time, especially in the event of a public holiday.
Fridays are often busy days in prisons. On Fridays, as on other days, prison staff need to prepare outgoing prisoners for court in the morning, and also need to process the larger numbers of people being released. Owing to performance indicators, prisons will prioritise those being prepared for court over those who are due for release, which can mean that people who are released later in the day have limited time to present themselves to service providers before the weekend. Those being released may also have to travel significant distances to reach the areas in which they are being resettled, arriving late in the day, which makes it less likely that they will secure all the support that they need. That point, too, has already been made eloquently by other Members. It is particularly relevant to women and young people, owing to the configuration of the prison estate and the possible distance from their home area.
Gaining access to timely support on release can therefore be particularly challenging on a Friday, because of the number of different services—both wider Government and third sector services—that will need to be accessed, because of the limited time available before services close for the weekend, and because of the additional pressure on support services caused by an increased number of releases. Approximately a third of releases fall on a Friday, almost double the number on any other day of the week, and failure to access vital support on a Friday, or the day preceding a public holiday, can increase the risk of reoffending.
Adult offenders released on a Friday from sentences of less than 12 months are known to have had a reoffending rate within two weeks of release of 14.8%, slightly higher than the average reoffending rate—13.2%—of those released on other days of the week. As was mentioned earlier, challenges are more apparent among older offenders, those released from establishments located far from their home address, and those with substance misuse or mental health needs, who face an increased risk of homelessness.
The data clearly shows that releasing prisoners on a Friday creates insecurity for them. That may be due to an inability to access accommodation, or they may have just a few hours in which to arrange a bed for the night, register with a GP and sign up for job support to keep them on the straight and narrow before services shut down for the weekend. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood) spoke eloquently about the rehabilitation of offenders, which lies at the heart of our justice system, at the heart of our debate and at the heart of the Bill. We support that strongly, and this is one practical way in which we can help the process.
The Bill will give the Secretary of State a discretionary power to bring forward the release date of an offender by up to two eligible working days, when that release date falls on a Friday. In practice, that power will be delegated to the governor, the director or appropriate officials in youth establishments—those who know the prisoners we are talking about—and guidance on eligibility criteria to target those most in need will be set out in a policy framework. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) rightly said, that is a sensible and pragmatic way of approaching things.
As was mentioned by, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness, Lord Bird, founder of The Big Issue, has come out strongly in favour of the Bill. My hon. Friend quoted his words, so I will not quote them in full now, but I will repeat the last sentence of my hon. Friend’s quotation:
“Ending Friday releases, with the linked increased risk of homelessness, is one positive move towards that.”
The Bill has my full support. It provides for changes which—as will be clear in the data that my hon. Friends and I have discussed—reduce reoffending and offer those on release more stable prospects as they reintegrate into public life.
I also rise to speak in support of the Bill, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on bringing it forward and on his quietly passionate and very persuasive speech outlining the reasons for it.
Any of us who read The Spectator—and given the Members who are in the Chamber today, I think everyone here is probably an avid Spectator reader—will know Rory Sutherland’s “Wiki Man” column. As an advertising man, he writes a fortnightly column explaining how small changes in design or behaviour can have far-reaching implications, and this Bill is a very good example of that.
As my hon. Friend explained, the current legislation, which is from the 1960s, says that one will be released from prison on a Friday if the release date is at the weekend or on a bank holiday. I should say at the outset that I believe in prison. I believe that people who commit serious offences and also some minor offences should go to prison. I also hold the view, which I think is still fashionable, that more people should be in prison for longer.
Aside from a small group of people, everyone who is in prison will be released at some point, so the question arises: how should we bring them back into society? How should we begin to rehabilitate them? We have heard from the speeches today that Fridays in prison are pretty much like those in any workplace—there is a rush to complete things before the weekend, when things effectively shut down for two days, and tasks need to be finished.
A third of releases are on a Friday, which is double the number on any other day. One might be released from prison a very long way from home, with a little bit of money in one’s pocket, as support services are winding down or closed. In that context, it is no surprise that offenders who have been released might end up in the pub or worse, rather than accessing the services they need. As we have heard today, adult offenders released on a Friday from sentences of less than 12 months have a slightly higher reoffending rate within two weeks of release than those released on other days. My hon. Friend clearly illustrated the issues, or more particularly, Stanley, who he referred to in his speech, articulated the problems that can be encountered.
This Bill will go a long way, particularly when seen in the context of other measures. For example, I welcome the recent introduction by the Government of employment advisory boards, which will bring together local charities, local authorities and others to help ready ex-prisoners for the workplace. My hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) and I are sitting in on the meetings of the board that exists in Nottingham. I have my first meeting next week, and I look forward to using those meetings to get feedback from those on the ground about how decisions being made in this place are actually working, and if they are not working, why and what can be done to improve them. He has been mentioned already, but I congratulate James Timpson, chief executive of the Timpson group, whose brainchild the employment advisory boards are, and I look forward to seeing those developed.
This is a measured Bill. The personal circumstances of the offender will be taken into account, to ensure that public protection is maintained. By bringing the release date forward by one or two days, the sentence is not shortened by any meaningful amount; it is only a matter of days. Those who support prison and believe in prison can support this measure as a way of ending the prison process, as the prison population is rehabilitated and returned into general society. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness on bringing forward the Bill, and I look forward to supporting it and seeing it come on to the statute book.
Campaigners have said in support of the Bill that a move to end Friday prison releases would help to stop freed inmates walking straight back into the arms of criminal gangs. I welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on introducing it.
As many Members have said, former prisoners who are let out of prison on a Friday face a race against the clock to access housing, benefits, healthcare and other services before the weekend, which leaves some of them temporarily homeless and increases the risk of reoffending. The Bill would give prison governors discretion to release those most at risk up to 48 hours earlier to ensure that they can receive assistance. The changes are expected to result in significantly fewer crimes each year, meaning fewer victims, less crime and safer streets.
Currently, about one in three prisoners leaves prison on a Friday. That gives them very little time before everything shuts for the weekend to find a bed for the night if they are unable to go back to their home, to register with a GP or to sign up for job support to keep them on the straight and narrow. When people come out of prison, they need secure housing first and foremost, as well as employment. Currently, section 23(3) of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 provides that detained offenders who would otherwise be released on weekends or public or bank holidays are to be released on the preceding day. That gives offenders only the rest of their day of release to access services and accommodation.
Failure to access vital support on a Friday, or the day preceding a public or bank holiday, can raise the risk of reoffending. From July 2016 to September 2020, adult offenders released on a Friday from sentences of less than 12 months had a slightly higher reoffending rate within two weeks of release—14.8% compared with the 13.2% average reoffending rate of those released on other days of the week.
Challenges are more apparent for older offenders, those released from establishments located far from their home address, or those with substance misuse or mental health needs, who face an increased risk of homelessness. I welcome the news that, after careful consideration, the Ministry of Justice is supportive of the Bill, following the announcement in June that it was seriously considering introducing changes to curb Friday releases. As we are all arguing, legislation is urgently needed.
When prisoners are released, they face a challenging environment that can actively deter them from becoming productive members of society. With alarming prevalence, many former prisoners are re-arrested within a short time of release. Reoffending harms the families of inmates and society in general. Taxpayers continue to support a broken system that sets up ex-offenders to fail once they are released. Former prisoners need housing and work, but it is more difficult for them to find rewarding employment—or any at all, in fact—when compared with the general population. It is also difficult for them to find safe and secure accommodation and to function in society generally. Significantly, adult offenders without stable accommodation on release from prison are almost 50% more likely to reoffend. Access to accommodation is important in helping offenders to access employment and training opportunities that may support their rehabilitation.
Ex-offenders seem to be punished for their crimes beyond the term of imprisonment—that is wrong. Whatever we wish to call it—punishment, rehabilitation redemption, forgiveness or salvation—when a person has served their punishment, he or she deserves a second chance, and everyone needs to move on. Former prisoners face challenges at every level when they come out of prison, from finding a job to finding that their family relationships have changed. Sometimes, even their own expectations are challenging for them to deal with, too.
Family relationships are vital. If ex-offenders can return home, they are dependent on family members and must often overcome years of limited contact, potential resentment and a change in the household dynamic. Many ex-offenders think that they can slip back in and things will be how they were, but that is not always the case, and many former inmates find it more difficult than they expected. It is not always easy for family members either: they, too, need to readjust and often have to carry the financial burden of a dependent adult.
Studies have shown that prisoners who maintain consistent contact and connection with their family during their sentence have a lower risk of reoffending. Far too many men, and unfortunately some women, miss out on their children’s formative and critical years. In prison, unfortunately, there are inevitable obstacles to maintaining consistent contact with family. That creates challenges post prison.
To make it easier for former prisoners to get back into the swing of life, we need to consider the best time for ex-offenders to be released from prison. That is not on a Friday or before public holidays, when it can be virtually impossible to access services. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) says, the Bill
“just gives people that breathing room and ability to plan, ability to access statutory services, and should also limit the ability for organised criminal gangs and others to basically pick up people who have nowhere else to turn at that time.”
Government figures show that one in three offenders leave prison on a Friday. According to campaigners, 35% of those who are freed on a Monday are reconvicted within a year, compared with 40% of those who are freed on a Friday, so it is vital that Friday releases be looked at again. The Government have acknowledged that Friday releases
“can end up with ex-offenders spending their first days on the streets with little in the way of support—increasing the likelihood they will commit further crimes”,
and have committed to legislation.
I agree with Jo Rogers, former senior manager at Brighton Housing Trust, a housing association and homeless charity that does fantastic work in beautiful Hastings and Rye. She said:
“An important aim of the Fulfilling Lives South East project was to challenge and change systems, and we are delighted that the government has announced this change to Friday prison releases. It is the result of a lot of hard work by ourselves and others in highlighting this issue as an additional barrier for people trying to access support after being released from prison…This policy change will make a real difference to vulnerable ex-offenders for whom the first few days out of prison are crucial in accessing valuable community support to avoid getting trapped in a cycle of repeat offending.”
Fulfilling Lives South East was a project based across Brighton and Hove, Hastings and Eastbourne that aimed to improve the systems that support people with multiple and complex needs. It was led by BHT Sussex and its work from 2014 to 2022 was funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. Its work is not over; there is still much more to do. I expect that the Government’s Changing Futures programmes is picking that up: Sussex was one of 15 areas chosen for that Government initiative, after a joint bid across East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton and Hove.
The Bill, which would apply to England and Wales only, would give the Secretary of State a discretionary power to bring forward the release date of an offender by up to two eligible working days where that release date falls on a Friday. That is really important. The Bill would also help to promote positive reintegration into society by ensuring that those who leave custody access the support services that they need on release. The Bill has much merit, and it has my support.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship for the second time today, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on his Bill; he spoke with great compassion, wisdom, experience and authority. It would be remiss of me not to mention the incredible work of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) to bring the Bill into the good position that it is in today.
An awful lot has already been said about the Bill. It is fundamentally about correcting an unintended consequence of the Criminal Justice Act 1961, whereby it was laid down that, when a sentence is passed, the release date is the date where it falls unless that is the weekend, in which case the date would be brought back to the Friday. That is why more than a third of release dates end up being on a Friday. As has already been explained, if we continue the practice of releasing prisoners on a Friday, we are often condemning them to go back into exactly the same situation that they had been in and that resulted in them offending and going into prison in the first place.
The Bill goes to the heart of what it means to be a compassionate Conservative. Those of us who had the delight of studying law at any time in our academic education know that there are four aspects to sentencing. Only one of those is about rehabilitation, but in many ways, that is the most transformative and that is the one that we have been talking about. It is a shame that, despite much being said by Opposition Members about Government Members not being compassionate, the Opposition Benches are not full of people supporting this compassionate measure. I recommend it wholly and it has my full support.
I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am also a borough councillor, as I was in 2010 and 2011 when I chaired a series of panels on reducing reoffending. We identified, with the help of the police and others, that leaving prison on a Friday is an absolutely terrible idea, and hopefully we will be able to deal with that today. I am thrilled to speak to the Bill, which I thoroughly support, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) for bringing it forward.
I absolutely believe that criminals should serve their sentence and be seen to serve their sentence, but they must also be given every opportunity to make a change once they are released from prison, and the Bill is a good way to do that. The cost of reoffending is £18.1 billion, so if it makes the slightest change to that, it would be great news. It would be even better news, however, for those who no longer reoffended.
I particularly thank HMP Leicester, which I visited and observed a few months ago. Given the work that staff do to try to make sure that people do not reoffend, it must be disheartening to see people leave on a Friday knowing that it creates a problem and that they are likely to come back. I also thank Leicestershire police, who are superb, and a number of charities in my area that support ex-offenders in particular.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) and to speak on this hugely important legislation. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on bringing the Bill forward. There is so much in there, particularly with regard to its impact on reducing reoffending, but I will talk specifically about the impact on reducing homelessness, which is close to my heart.
Leaving prison is a hugely significant transition for offenders. Once they are out, it takes them a long time to adapt, so starting on the right foot is important. It is therefore vital to get people into stable accommodation. In 2022, two in three of those released from prison were released homeless. Those who are released and are immediately homeless are more likely to reoffend, so that cycle continues.
I welcome the Government’s new accommodation service, which is being rolled out across England and Wales and will support thousands of prison leavers at that crucial time of their life and give them the foundation to work on to rebuild themselves. It is critical that we end the cycle of leaving prison and becoming homeless. On that note, I support the Bill.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) for bringing forward this tremendously important legislation. Speaking as someone who has served for 13 years as a member of my local authority, I understand exactly the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt). It can be incredibly difficult to access services on a Friday in a timely manner. Even when someone can access them, it can be extremely difficult to get a resolution when raising complex issues, as has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt). I understand that some will want to get to their feet on other matters, so, with that, I will bring my comments to a close. I absolutely commend the excellent work my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness has been doing on this matter.
I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on bringing forward this important Bill. It is a simple change, but the measure he has brought before the House today will, through its passage through this place, be a landmark reform. He spoke powerfully and made a very effective case by talking of real people and their case studies. He has been so effective that I have scored through large parts of my speech, in which I intended to illustrate a number of those points, so I thank him doubly. I also acknowledge and thank our hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) for the role that he has played in bringing the Bill to this place.
The Bill will ensure that those most at risk of reoffending will no longer need to be released on a Friday, or the day before a bank holiday. It will do so by providing the Secretary of State for Justice—in practice, the governor or director of a prison, or the appropriate equivalent officer in a youth establishment—with a discretionary power to bring forward the release date by up to two eligible working days. That will mean that certain offenders will no longer face the race against the clock that my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness so evocatively set out to find accommodation and access to medication and financial support before those services close for the weekend. That, of course, can be particularly problematic for those with multiple complex needs, such as drug dependency and mental health issues. He described it as a fleeting window of opportunity. I think that sets out the issue very well.
By removing the barriers that a Friday release can create, we can maintain public protection by ensuring custody leavers have a better chance to access the support they need to reintegrate and turn their backs on a life of crime. Ultimately, it will result in fewer victims and less crime. The Bill applies to both adults and children sentenced to detention. Despite the various safeguards and legal duties that exist for children leaving custody, it is still the case that being released on a Friday would mean going at least two days without meaningful contact with a supervising officer when they are at their most vulnerable.
I want to respond to the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi). It might come as a surprise to many to discover that Members, certainly those on the Government Benches, are only supposed to turn up in Parliament if they disagree with something, but she asked me to clarify the statistics on reoffending and I am pleased to be able to do so. This Government have made tangible progress in tackling the still huge £18 billion annual cost of reoffending and protecting the public. Data show that, over the past 10 years, the overall proven reoffending rate has decreased from 30.9% in 2009-10 to 25.6% in 2019-20. Of course, that is still too high and we must drive it down further by tackling the drivers of reoffending, strengthening the supervision and monitoring of offenders in the community and protecting the public from becoming victims.
The Government are, of course, investing substantial sums in doing so. It begins with helping prisoners to get off drugs, supporting them to maintain or rebuild family ties and providing quality education and training to get them job-ready for release. We know that getting prison leavers into jobs can reduce the chance of reoffending very significantly, with those who get jobs within a year of being released up to nine percentage points less likely to reoffend. This means that individuals can not only support themselves and their families, but start to repay society by contributing to our economy, which is another important reason to support my hon. Friend’s Bill. We want ex-offenders to get into the rhythm of job search straightaway, which will be much easier if prison leavers do not have to cram all their appointments, including their first visit to Jobcentre Plus, into a Friday afternoon.
I am pleased to say that the proportion of prison leavers employed six months after release has seen a marked positive trend over the last year. With the number of vacancies that we have in the country now—around 1.25 million—an increase in prison leavers getting jobs is also good news for our economy as a whole, but there is more to be done, including through the New Futures Network, the Prison Service’s network of employment brokers that works with 400 organisations to get prison leavers into work. I commend all the employers and companies engaged in that programme.
I was delighted to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) that he and our hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) will be attending the employment advisory board in Nottingham. Of course, all of us as MPs can play an important role in creating and promoting some of the links with business which are so important for our whole community.
We are recruiting new banking and identity administrators to ensure that when prisoners leave custody they have a bank account and ID, so that they are ready to work. The work on those administrative requirements will be complemented by the Bill to smooth out somewhat the leaving pattern of prisoners engaged in those administrative activities.
We are also making significant investments in improving prison leavers’ access to accommodation. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness used the word “paramount” in referring to accommodation; it was also referred to effectively by our hon. Friends the Members for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) and for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt). A settled place to live is key to reducing reoffending, and probation practitioners are much better able to robustly supervise an offender if they know where they are living. That is one of the reasons why last July we launched the transitional accommodation service in five probation regions, providing up to 12 weeks’ accommodation on release, with support to move on to settled accommodation.
To support prison leavers with substance misuse and health needs, we are recruiting 50 health and justice partnership co-ordinators across England and Wales. The co-ordinators will liaise between prisons, probation, local authorities and health partners, improving links between services and supporting continuity of care for prison leavers with health and substance misuse needs.
I turn briefly to some of the other contributions to what has been a high-quality debate, with colleagues drawing on their personal experiences and constituency experiences, including the brilliant work by voluntary and third-sector organisations in our constituencies in support of this important Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes) spoke effectively about the impact of distance—whatever else you may have to do, first, you have to get there. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) spoke about the challenges facing children, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood) spoke about women. Of course, they are absolutely right. There has been great success in reducing the number of women in custody and, even more so, children in custody, but there are relatively few places around the country, which means that the average distances for those people, who may have particular vulnerabilities, is even greater. That makes the Bill all the more important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury summed up the issue, and what we are all here for, well: we need to give people all the chance we can. If what is getting in the way boils down to a day of the week, it really ought to be relatively straightforward to address. Of course, it will not address everything, but it is an important enabler.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) talked about the fact that this is about correcting unintended consequences, and our hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) encapsulated the situation well by saying that people must do their punishment, but then we must try to give them the maximum chance. She also made an important point when she talked about the effect on staff of knowing that somebody released on a certain day of the week would perhaps have a lesser chance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South accurately enumerated all the different things that need to be in place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (James Grundy) reminded us that it is not just a question of turning up and doing something straightforward, because in some cases the issues for individuals will be particularly complex. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West spoke about how for many prisoners, even those who have not been in prison that long, the world may have changed, thinking about technology and so on. Closer to home, my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye spoke about how people’s family circumstances and the home itself may have changed.
The measures I have outlined, and many more that there is not time to cover, should help to improve resettlement opportunities for all offenders and reduce reoffending. However, they cannot fully address all the practical challenges, especially for those released on a Friday. Through this Bill, we have an opportunity to provide such offenders with the best possible chance of living law-abiding, productive lives in the community and hence an opportunity to cut crime, making our streets safer and protecting constituents.
In closing, I reiterate my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness for bringing this Bill before the House, and to everyone who has made this such a rich and productive debate. I confirm with pleasure that the Government will be supporting the Bill, and I look forward to seeing its passage through this House.
With the leave of the House, I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to this debate and supported the passage of this Bill. In particular, I recognise the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey), who spoke with righteous fury about youth offenders and the many injustices they face in the system. His passion is well felt. My hon. Friends the Members for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood), for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) and for Southend West (Anna Firth) spoke about the power of a criminal justice system that works to turn people’s lives around. That is absolutely the objective we should be aiming for. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury for the evocative term “Muscle Pit”, which is unfortunately stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
The hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) on the Opposition Front Bench spoke gracefully about why these measures matter, and I thank her and her party for their support. My hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), for Leigh (James Grundy) and for Gedling (Tom Randall) showed compassion and fairness in what they said; their contributions in this place are always marked by those qualities. My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) could, I am sure, have spoken for much longer on this subject. Her passion is heartfelt and her experience is long, and what she brings to this area makes her a credit to the House.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt)—there he is, right behind me—spoke with passion about tackling homelessness. He is absolutely right, and I hope these measures will go some way to achieving those ends. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for his kind and thoughtful words at the Dispatch Box, and thank him and his team at the Ministry of Justice for their graciousness in affording me time to learn about the subject, to kick around ideas with them and to talk about the issues that the Bill seeks to tackle. Their passion to improve the system is heartfelt and real, and it burns very bright indeed.
I owe a debt of thanks to the hon. Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson), who passed this Bill on to me. Truly, he is the Pete Best to my Ringo, but I am incredibly grateful to him. The Bill will make a real difference, and I am grateful to everyone who has contributed and spoken on it, and for the support from both sides of the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).
Congratulations, Mr Fell, on your achievement.