The overall proven reoffending rate has fallen since 2010, from over 31% to less than 25%, but that is still too high, so we are making major investments in drug treatment, accommodation support, education and employment to drive it down further.
Onward’s latest levelling up report found that tackling antisocial behaviour in crime hotspots is one of communities’ top priorities. In the six months to October 2022, the top 10 offenders in North Devon committed 137 offences. What steps is the Minister’s Department taking to reduce that reoffending and to support communities in tackling antisocial behaviour?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that antisocial behaviour is a blight. It is one of the reasons we are upping the amount of unpaid work hours available, including in Devon and Torbay probation unit. There were 37,000 hours of such work last year, and we want to increase that further. On stopping people reoffending, a number of things need to come into play to make that work, including some of the things that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was just talking about: sustained attention on drugs, both outside prison as well as inside; and the Turnaround programme for young people on the cusp of offending.
Futures Unlocked, a charity based in my constituency, does great work to rehabilitate ex-offenders, with a 30% reduction in reoffending rates among its clients. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the £90,000 grant it has just received from national lottery funding, which will allow John Powell and Laura Halford, together with their team of 33 volunteer mentors, to continue this really important work?
Yes, indeed. It really is important work across Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull. I join my hon. Friend in strongly commending John, Laura and the whole team of volunteers. I also very much welcome the news about the grant from the national lottery community fund, which will help Futures Unlocked to extend its support for ex-offenders to lead crime-free lives and help to ensure that communities are safer.
Does the Minister agree that education and training are absolutely crucial in preventing reoffending? If so, how does he account for the 90% reduction in the number of prisoners taking AS-level qualifications over the past 10 years? Will he address that Select Committee finding from just three years ago? Will he also address the fact that one in four people in the prison estate are care leavers? How will he target those who have been in care to ensure that they do not go into the prison system in the first place?
That is a multifaceted question; I do not think I will do justice to all of it, but there were a number of very important points. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about care leavers. We are very conscious of the prevalence of care leavers in the system. Of course, we do not always know exactly, because it depends to some extent on self-declaration and not everybody wants to do that, so we have to be very conscious of that. I am also very conscious of people who leave the youth offending estate who may be going back into it. That is another thing we need to look at. I am slightly puzzled by his focus on AS-levels. As he will know, the whole landscape has changed, away from the AS and A2 system and towards a more linear programme of study—that is nothing to do with prisons; it is the general education system. But he is absolutely right about the centrality of education, which is why we have such a focus on literacy, numeracy and, increasingly, IT skills, as well as crucial vocational qualifications.
A company in my constituency called LettUs Grow, working with HM Prison Hewell in Worcestershire, is introducing prisoners to vertical farming, which is an excellent way of not only growing food for the prison but teaching prisoners new skills. However, it is disturbing to note that many prisons are doing less in the way of food growing and involvement in farming. Is the Minister planning to roll out this pilot to other prisons?
We are, in fact, introducing more variety of employment in prisons, but I want to see that go even further. One of the advantages of urban vertical farming is the fact that, for obvious reasons, it takes up less space than traditional farming. There are, of course, limits to what can be grown in that way, but the hon. Lady has made an interesting point that we shall no doubt have an opportunity to discuss further.
An effective probation service is key to reducing reoffending, but ever since the disastrous Tory privatisation the probation service has been in crisis. Six serious further offences are committed each week, experienced staff are abandoning the service, and the chief inspector of probation has said that it is
“impossible to say the public is being properly protected”.
The Tories’ legacy is failing to protect the public, failing to punish criminals, and failing to prevent crime. Is it not time they stood aside and let Labour fix their mess?
If I may start at the end of the hon. Lady’s question—no. I do not think that we will be taking lessons from the Opposition Front Benchers when it comes to clamping down on crime and standing up to criminals.
The people who work in the prohibition service do a unique and immensely difficult job, making difficult judgments and helping to support people, but also determining when it is necessary for them to be recalled to prison. It is important that when things do go wrong we learn lessons, and we have been learning those lessons. Let me also gently say to the hon. Lady that, sadly, serious further offences, although rare among people who have come out of prison on probation, happen every year, and it is important that we bear down on them and seek to learn lessons whenever they occur.