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Volume 745: debated on Tuesday 20 February 2024

1. What steps he is taking to ensure that people leaving prison are provided with support to help prevent reoffending. (901575)

17. What steps his Department is taking to help reduce rates of reoffending by people released from prison. (901593)

Since 2010, crime has fallen and so has reoffending, with the overall proven rate of reoffending down from over 31% in 2011-12 to 25% in 2021-22. That means that fewer innocent members of the public are suffering from the misery of falling victim to crime. We have gone further, building up initiatives including a new prison education service, expanded access to incentivised substance-free living wings for drug recovery, and the groundbreaking guarantee of 12 weeks’ post-release accommodation to secure that essential period of stability for offenders to turn their lives around.

With the reoffending rate at over 25%, rising to nearly 50% for burglary, reoffending is costing the country £18 billion a year and the service is failing to keep us safe. If just a small fraction of that cost were invested in probation staff to address the problems caused by 50,000 days lost through sickness and 2,000 people leaving each year, it could be transformative. Will the Justice Secretary back Operation Protect, the campaign spearheaded by the justice unions, and ensure that there is a comprehensive workforce plan to recruit, retain and return the staff needed to prevent reoffending?

The hon. Lady is right. We want to drive the offending rate down, and it is good news that it is down from about 31% in 2010 to 25% now, but we do believe in investing in probation. That is why the baseline is up by £155 million, and it is why we have added 4,000 trainees since 2020. Since the reunification of probation services, the number has risen by 17%. Probation officers keep society safe, and we will back them all the way.

I recently raised the issue of social media use in prison, allegedly by one of those responsible for the murder of Jack Woodley, the son of my constituent Zoey McGill. We have a local campaign against knife crime, and at the latest working group meeting we discussed deterrents. Zoey would like to understand what consequences were suffered by this individual for the posts that he sent, but also why he should be wearing a designer T-shirt and apparently leading a cushy life. Prison needs to be seen as a deterrent, but if inmates are having it easy with designer wear and no consequences, how is that a deterrent? May I ask the Secretary of State what is being done to address this, and to make prison the deterrent that it should be?

I know that the whole House will want to send its deepest sympathies to Zoey McGill following the shocking murder of her son in 2021. It was a dreadful crime, of which 10 men were convicted and for which they received life sentences. The use of social media in prisons is not acceptable, and this content was removed from the social media platform. We have been investing £100 million in prison security and new technology, including X-ray scanners to tackle the smuggling of contraband mobile phones. Those who are caught can face loss of privileges, more time in custody, and even a referral to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration of further charges.

Last year I was grateful for the Government’s support for my private Member’s Bill to limit Friday releases for vulnerable prisoners. It is an important measure and is now an Act, but it is only one of the measures that we should be taking to reduce reoffending and help people get back on their feet when they leave prison. The excellent charity Switchback has suggested that, at the very minimum, people should be leaving prison with access to ID and an internet-enabled mobile phone just to get their lives in order so that they can access universal credit and other services. What consideration has my right hon. and learned Friend given to those suggestions?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his excellent work in successfully championing the limit on Friday prison releases. The changes for which he called came into force last November and are exceptionally helpful, and he deserves great credit for that. He is also right to point to the brilliant work of Switchback, which has supported our resettlement work. That work includes the roll-out of 12 weeks’ guaranteed accommodation and the introduction of resettlement passports, which contain precisely the basic information to which my hon. Friend referred, such as a prisoner’s name, date of birth, national insurance number and release date. They help prisoners to access essential services such as housing and healthcare, and contribute to the driving down of reoffending, which, as was recognised by the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), is significantly lower than it was in 2010.

The wife of a remand prisoner at Wormwood Scrubs wrote to me recently to say that the prison is so cold that prisoners are shaking, that they have to choose between work, social time and showering, and that the food is lacking in basic nutrition. I can explore these matters with the Prisons Minister in a couple of weeks’ time during our joint visit to the Scrubs, but does the Secretary of State agree that such conditions are not conducive to rehabilitation?

This is an important point. We do deprive people of liberty and sometimes we have to do so in the case of those on remand, but the conditions must be safe, decent and humane—austere, yes, but humane as well. I commend the hon. Gentleman for going to see the Scrubs with the Prisons Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), and I shall be very interested to hear his views thereafter.

We need to tackle the revolving door of reoffending in our justice system, yet the reoffending rate, as a proportion of those leaving prison, continues to rise. Whatever the Secretary of State may say, I have heard time and again that the lack of secure housing, adequate and appropriate healthcare, education, job training and job support means that prisoners are being left to fail after they are released. It is the victims of crime who suffer when ex-prisoners reoffend. Can the Secretary of State announce when the Government expect the reoffending rate to go down?

It is important to note that reoffending is down compared with under the last Labour Government. The hon. Lady shakes her head, but one can dispute opinions in this House, but not facts. The reoffending rate in 2010 was around 31%; it is 25% now. That means fewer people falling victim to crime.

The hon. Lady refers to accommodation, and she is right to do so. What she did not advert to is this Government’s decision to provide 12 weeks’ guaranteed accommodation, which did not happen under a Labour Government. When I went to Luton and Dunstable, I spoke to a probation officer who has done the job for 30 years, and do you know what he said? It is the single most effective measure to drive down reoffending. Who did that? Not the Labour party, but us.