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Crime: Reoffending

Volume 689: debated on Thursday 1 February 2007

rose to call attention to the challenges that high reoffending rates cause to society and to the effectiveness of alternatives to custody; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this debate comes at a time of unprecedented crisis in our prisons. Overcrowding has reached the point where not only are prison places full to capacity but both police cells and even court cells are having to be used to hold prisoners until a bed can be found. In desperation, the Home Secretary ordered back into commission a wing in Norwich Prison, which the Chief Inspector of Prisons had deemed unfit for habitation and which had sewerage overflowing down the walls in one area. He is also looking again at prison ships and disused military camps and has felt it necessary to communicate with our judges to remind them of that part of their role which is to use custody as a last resort. Of course, they have to consider that when sentencing anyway.

His reminder is not misplaced. In recent years, both judges and magistrates have steadily increased their use of custody. This is partly because of recent legislation which has introduced, inter alia, mandatory sentences, indeterminate sentences and breaches of civil offences, increasing both the number and length of custodial sentences. It is also because sentencers have steadily chosen earlier use of custody and custody for lesser offences.

Over the past 10 years in the Crown Court, the use of custody has gone up from 49 to 61 per cent. In the magistrates’ courts, it is up from 6 to 16 per cent, a massive rise. Yet the number of people found guilty over the same period has remained constant. It is a desperate situation, which seems even more unacceptable because it has been predicted for many years. It demonstrates the lack of a coherent long-term strategy which deals effectively with prisoners, almost amounting to paralysis in bringing the prison population into line with available resources.

There are various ways of demonstrating effectiveness. The most commonly used indicator is reoffending, because it demonstrates how well the public is being protected—a primary purpose of prison—and how well prisoners are rehabilitated, or at least deterred from committing further crimes. Over the past 10 years, reoffending has risen steadily, and is now at an all-time high of over two-thirds. The figures for young people are around 75 per cent. For the children we have started to incarcerate, that rises to over 80 per cent. That represents a failure we cannot ignore.

Of course prison has its place in the arsenal of disposals available to the courts, but emphatically not under current conditions which, it is generally agreed, only erode standards and promote reoffending. Prison is needed to protect us from dangerous, violent, prolific and repeat offenders. In acceptable conditions, and with the time to work with them, prisoners can be rehabilitated in prison. I have great respect for the excellent work of prison staff when they are allowed to do their job properly, which is impossible for so many today. I declare an interest as vice-president of the Butler Trust, which I started and has been recognising excellence in prisons for the past 20 years.

What is the cost? The Social Exclusion Unit has estimated that the cost to the country of current reoffending is at least £11 billion. The Government have promised 8,000 more prison places to meet this crisis, which will take several years to bring on stream, by which time that, too, will be inadequate. Building the promised new prisons will cost the country £1.5 billion, and each place around £100,000. This is a huge price to pay when building more and more prisons does not and cannot solve the problem. It is merely a race after failure.

Apart from this sample of the financial cost, what are the soft indicators of social and emotional cost? Above all, the cost to victims can be huge: the disruption to jobs, family life and the sense of security which we all regard as a basic requirement for a full and happy life are put at risk, sometimes for a long time. There is the consequent demand on our public services, the voluntary sector and all who help and support such victims. Ironically, that cost is mirrored in the offenders’ lives and families, who are also part of the community and are almost always victims as well. Broken families and relationships, and lost jobs and housing are so often the outcome of imprisonment, yet they are the very things on which going straight depends. We further disable people with this form of punishment which in turn creates the very conditions for the ever-increasing reoffending rates.

Finally, we are creating a far bigger, long-term problem for ourselves. The children of today who lose a parent to prison, of which there are at any one time around 150,000, are significantly more likely to become ensnared in the criminal justice system themselves. I declare an interest as the patron of Action for Prisoners’ Families, which supports these additional victims of crime. One 16 year-old girl’s comment on her mother’s imprisonment prison gives a tiny insight:

“Coming home won’t be too good. Prison does a lot to your brain, because it’s hard. It’s hard for the family to readjust. Mum needs support because the family has grown different. Mum still thinks I’m 13”.

How much more will it take before it is understood that our prison policy is failing our communities?

I heard the Home Secretary earlier this week robustly defending his position, saying that his first priority is the development of more prison places because that is what the public wants. He is wrong. There have been several polls of public attitudes in the recent past showing that the British public is not as pro-prison as is commonly supposed, or as the tabloids would have us believe. I declare an interest as chair of Rethinking Crime & Punishment, which commissioned a number of MORI polls on public attitudes in 2001-03, showing a strong preference for prevention as the way to reduce crime—better parenting, more police, better discipline in schools—and only 8 per cent thought that more imprisonment would achieve this. When asked how they would spend a mere £10 million on dealing with crime, only 2 per cent would build more prisons. Rehabilitation was the most favoured objective of sentencing, coupled with strategies to reduce reoffending and community punishments. Another, recently published, survey of attitudes of victims showed that 62 per cent did not believe that prison prevented reoffending, and over 80 per cent favoured more constructive activities, better supervision for non-violent offenders and more treatment programmes.

Where has the discussion been on alternatives, not to punishment but to custody? It has been almost invisible. Community service was first introduced in the 1970s. I saw it at first hand in those early days, when I was involved in starting the first visitors’ centre for prisoners’ families at Pentonville prison and we had the first women on community service. They came and helped us look after the families and visitors of prisoners, a very salutary experience for girls who could have been on the other side of the high wall themselves. I learned then the real value of that sort of work, because it was constructive, reparative and important lessons were learned. That is surely the sort of punishment worth giving.

There seems to have been a symbolic shift in the very language—an important thing—used to describe that sort of penalty. It has changed from “community service” to “community punishment” to “unpaid work”, thus progressively losing the essentially positive and constructive ethos of the process which, within the community, ensures that people do not reoffend. About eight million hours of unpaid work are served every year. It is one of the Home Office’s best kept secrets. It is done on a shoestring, almost invisibly, but with huge potential if properly resourced and developed.

I am not aware of any process like the razzmatazz that accompanied the promotion of ASBOs when they came on stream, with road shows, videos and acclaim for those areas espousing their use. On the contrary, significant new funding for this work, an absolute necessity to deliver the enormous expansion of alternatives if fewer offenders are to go into custody, has simply not been forthcoming. Yet nobody seems to have blinked at the prospect of £1.5 billion being spent on new prisons.

What a difference it could make if that funding—even just a small proportion of it—could be redirected immediately. It would mean investing in a strategy that can serve the purposes of sentencing and society so very much better for the great majority of offenders because it offers the possibilities not only of paying back to the community they come from but also of focusing on the causes of the offending, which include substance abuse, mental illness, learning disabilities and basic education. In particular, investment in the provision of secure places in drug rehabilitation units and mental health units could transform the outcomes for society and offenders.

Much has been said about the lack of confidence in community penalties, despite the fact that the overall reoffending rate is significantly lower: 53 per cent compared with the average of 67 per cent after custody. Community penalties are a great deal cheaper and do not entail the rupturing of lives in the way that custody does. Instead, the perception of community penalties not being tough enough, with people being described in the tabloids as “walking free” when they are imposed, has been allowed to grow. How wrong that is! Provision is indeed patchy and far from perfect, but it is hardly surprising that there is little confidence amongst sentencers or community members if very little is known about what community penalties consist of.

In the Thames Valley, Rethinking Crime & Punishment is trying to improve understanding about what is going on and engagement in the community and among sentencers. Our work has brought judges and magistrates together with providers of the projects and with the “users” to see and hear about their experiences on community punishments. The outcome has been a transformation in the perceptions of sentencers as they realise the robustness and rigour of the programmes, which have greatly impressed them and provided insight and reassurance. We need much more of that.

In essence, this debate is about the nature and place of punishment. If punishment is inappropriate, negative and simply retributive, no one’s interests are served; indeed, we are all damaged. Today, we are haunted by the issue of toughness, which seems to be associated with unpleasantness and fear. Most of us want to see crime reduced and, even more, we want criminals not to offend again. We have seen by the catastrophic situation we are in today that unpleasantness and fear do not achieve our ends, but quite the reverse. There are robust alternatives out there—one can say that they are tough—but we need a seismic shift in our priorities. I just hope and pray that the Government have the will and the courage to bring such a shift about. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, on securing this important debate. I declare my interests as recorded in the Register, which include being a member of the Prison Service and National Offender Management Service boards and audit committees and being a lay magistrate.

Resources directed to reducing reoffending—and there are some indicators of falls in reoffending—have to be shown to be delivering objectives to a degree that represents value for money compared with other potential uses of the same money. When it comes to the prevention of crime, there are differing views on how the resources available can best be spent. Some argue that the most effective deterrent from committing crime is the likelihood of being caught and that available additional resources should be directed at the police and at crime detection measures. Others argue that resources should be directed at preventing young people, in particular, starting down the road of crime in the first place. Yet others argue that those resources should be directed at reducing reoffending among those who have already been convicted of crime. Once again, it is crucial that money spent in this area can be shown to be delivering in respect of those who are sentenced to terms of imprisonment and those who receive community sentences.

Most people would no doubt say that more money should be spent on measures to reduce reoffending, just as they might also say that more money should be spent on further improving healthcare, education and public transport and on increasing police numbers. The desire to see more resources allocated is not often matched by a desire to see levels of taxation rise to provide for them, which means that an argument for more resources needs to be based on a case that money spent today stands a credible prospect of producing savings within a defined timespan.

There are programmes and projects associated with community sentences that are designed to reduce the likelihood of reoffending and to rehabilitate the offender. There are also programmes and courses for those serving a sentence in prison designed to address the causes of offending; and courses to improve basic skills to enhance the prospects of securing employment and thus a source of income, or to enable prisoners to continue with some form of training or educational course on release. Help is also given in seeking accommodation for a prisoner to go to on leaving prison.

With the advent of the National Offender Management Service, it is expected that co-ordination between the different organisations and agencies, whether public, private, or voluntary, that may be involved in dealing with offenders inside prison and in the community will be developed and strengthened. However, bearing in mind that resources will be tight in the immediate future, at least, it is imperative that full and reliable information is available on what programmes and courses give the best return in respect of reoffending and on which kind of offenders such programmes are likely to have the greatest impact. We also need to be clear, based on hard evidence, about the levels and kinds of support and supervision for offenders in the community that have the greatest impact on reducing reoffending.

I am aware that some statistics are available; for example, there are the results of pilot exercises. However, at the moment, for one reason or another—in some cases because it is too early to be able to evaluate the impact on reoffending of a programme or course—we have too little hard evidence to be certain about what works most effectively and what has the least impact on reoffending in respect of each area of activity and support. That information is crucial if the case is to be made for further resources to be directed at addressing reoffending on the argument that reducing reoffending will save financial and social costs at a time when resources are limited and the demands for them are numerous and widespread.

There is also a further issue. Points are made about the size of our prison population in relation to that of other countries. If the argument is that community sentences in a number of cases where prison sentences are being given represent a better alternative in terms of protection of the public and in reducing the likelihood of further offending by the defendant, then sentencers, and those who lay down guidelines for sentencers, have to be persuaded of the argument as well. That brings us back to the issue of the quality and completeness of information about the impact, in terms of protecting the public and reducing the likelihood of further offending, of community sentences rather than prison sentences in those cases where a prison sentence is not inevitable.

Sentencers are much more likely to have confidence in community sentences if hard evidence is there to show that, in cases where prison is not inevitable, a community sentence is likely to be at least as effective, if not more so, in achieving the objectives that sentencers wish. That hard evidence of effectiveness also has to be produced if large sections of the public are also to be persuaded that community sentences work and that they are not tantamount—as certain sections of the media portray—to a soft option or getting off.

I appreciate that much has been done by the Probation Service, in particular, and others to get across what a community sentence can actually involve for the offender, but more needs to be done in this area. Reducing reoffending represents an enormous prize financially, in reducing the cost of crime, and socially, in improving the quality of life of offenders and of communities who suffer from the effects of high levels of crime. Like everyone else, I want to see that goal achieved, as well as the reduction in the prison population that should follow, but it will not happen unless we have solid and reliable hard evidence available to enable us to concentrate limited financial resources on those specific programmes, activities and support activities that have a proven track record of reducing reoffending rates.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for obtaining this opportunity and for making most of the points I had intended to make in my speech. That is also a matter for congratulation because she has such wide involvement in this area that almost any source one goes to has her fingerprints on it somewhere.

I am one of the few people in this country who have considerable sympathy for the Home Secretary at the moment, and I have more sympathy for the Minister with responsibility for prisons. In 1982, I was that Minister, and I found that I had inherited a prisons estate in which not one brick had been put on another in any adult secure accommodation since the reign of Queen Victoria. I had a chart in my office which showed the point at which I would have to advise the Secretary of State—Willie Whitelaw in those days—to take immediate action to secure executive release. On several occasions we got to within 11 places of that release, although we were using the bridewells, the police cells, and I am not sure that we did not use one or two prison vans.

Of course my first advice was to spend a lot of money on building new prisons. That was put in train. I similarly advised Leon Brittan—now the noble Lord, Lord Brittan—in the next Administration, and that was put in train. We are back there. It has not worked. So it seems to me that there is considerable intellectual force in the idea that what we are doing is wrong and that we should do something different.

There are some simple things we can tinker with in the system. I have always thought that the proportion of prisoners on remand was absurd. They are the most expensive prisoners to keep, they have more privileges than anybody else, they require more looking after, and they take staff attention away from the sentenced prisoners who should be in rehabilitative training. The Government might look through the minor offences, which are triable both ways, to see whether some of the thresholds cannot be raised to reduce the number of people remanded on their own request for trial by jury on the off-chance of getting off some sentence which they would otherwise cop. That would have an effect on the numbers. The typical thing when I last looked at that was handling goods below a certain value.

Restorative justice, which has already been mentioned, is a fruitful way of reducing crime. I back up what the noble Baroness said about the Rethinking Crime & Punishment initiative that took place in the Thames Valley. That was directed only at, I suspect, Crown Court judges. All sentencers should be included. When I was chairman of the Intermediate Treatment Fund—set up by a previous Administration in a moment of great enlightenment—one of its functions was to bring together the sort of meetings now being arranged under local area agreements and local strategic partnerships. That function should be extended.

There are so many prisoners and so many convicts that it is tempting to think of them as statistics—as a sort of muddy river flowing from some distant source through our prisons, whirling and re-circling in there for a long time and then drifting out into an obscure delta into society. That is not a bad analogy if you trace the river to its head-waters, to places like the north Kensington estates, where it is miraculous that anybody finishes up not involved in crime, because it is one of the few ways of securing your own safety in a gang culture. I refer the Minister—and ask him to pass the recommendation on to his friends concerned with social services as well as with the Prison Service—to a publication by the Centre for Young Policy Studies called No Man’s Land, written by an independent worker called Shaun Bailey, which gives an absolutely crystal-clear analysis of what was going on on his particular estate and the way that every factor reinforces every other factor. He had a very strong-willed, independent, single mother who was determined that he should break out of this. He was fortunate to go into the Army Cadet Force, which may sound strange, but there a colonel gave him a lot of support that a father would have done. He has seen what is happening to his community and is doing something effective about it. I cannot in six minutes expand on this, but the lesson that it drives home to me is that we are not dealing with statistics, but with individuals, and individuals can be dealt with only by individuals who know and love them. Most young children have gone wrong because they have lacked love. The child of a teenaged schoolgirl mother, who was herself the child of a teenaged schoolgirl mother, inherits no knowledge of parenting. It has to be taught, and it cannot be done by an institution.

In my final 30 seconds I beg the Government to look at the voluntary sector and to vitalise it with money and not regulation, and to pass the same message to local authorities. It is the dedicated individuals who are prepared to give their lives and time because they care for these children who turn that muddy stream away from the prison, clarify it and purify the whole of our society over the years.

My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Baroness on securing this debate and on the splendid speech with which she introduced it. I have a few comments on this very complex area from what I hope at least is a Christian perspective.

First, the exercise of justice, sentencing and punishment, reflects a judgment on events, in terms of determining a difference between right and wrong. We should never forget that. The Prime Minister said that he wanted to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Providing that the emphasis is on both sides of that statement, it seems to me to be entirely right. We need to avoid any dewy eyed innocence about how our society is or any society will be. I think it was GK Chesterton who said that original sin was the only Christian doctrine which had been empirically demonstrated.

Justice is a serious matter. We may have abolished the death penalty, and rightly so in my view, but all that we do seeks to avoid any de facto return to it, because if justice breaks down you end up with armed patrols or vigilante action. The exercise of justice and judgment in our society is a point at which the dignity of our society is most emphasised.

One of the problems is that we have developed over the years, and particularly in the past 20 years, an underclass which has become very stubbornly ingrained with crime. When you are in that underclass, intersecting with the justice system can in its own bizarre way be seen to almost confer a certain dignity on those who are offenders. We had a debate recently in the House on ASBOs and on a report which said that in some sections of our young people an ASBO is almost a badge of honour. Recognising that is simply recognising the dynamics of having an underclass in our society, and the wrong response would be to rack up the punishments. That will add to the problems rather than take them away.

Secondly, sentencing pronounces a judgment on events which is, in a sense, a determination of what I would call “the wisdom for the future”—the best for both the offender and society taken together. A great deal derives from the Criminal Justice Act 2003. I wonder whether there was some tension in that very good Act between the establishment of automatic or minimum sentences and the rebasing of community punishment orders with all the different options available. It seems to me you only really match up those two if you recognise that judges should have a proper discretion in the exercise of judgment.

One thing I have noticed—this has been confirmed by talking to judges who I know well—is that judges often feel these days that their discretion is more limited, partly because of the public pressures which have been brought to bear. That can have a bad effect on minorities in our society. I take, for example, the way women have been affected in the criminal justice system in recent years. I rely here on an excellent publication by the Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales a couple of years ago called A Place of Redemption. In 2003, more women were sent to prison for shoplifting than for any other crime. Many women are in prison because of financial problems and there is a higher level of mental disorder among women compared with men in prison. In 1991, 8 per cent of women convicted of motoring crimes went to prison; in 2001 it was up to 40 per cent.

Those are astonishing figures. The effect on families and children of sending women to prison can be devastating. I am told that only 5 per cent of children of women who go to prison can remain in the home in which they have been until their mother went to prison. In any given year, about 18,000 children are separated from their mother because their mother is given a custodial sentence. It seems at least worth asking whether a proper emphasis on the equality of the sexes in our age has not led to a false interchangeability, as it were, in how they have been treated by the justice system.

That point was made in a memorable lecture by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, our only female Lord Justice of Appeal, last year. Only giving judges proper discretion and trusting their wisdom will enable some of the more subtle points in exercise of that judgment to come through. In Christian terms, justice must always be tempered by mercy. Only when you put justice and mercy together do you get a wise exercise of judgment.

In that connection, we should resist giving in too much to a victim culture. I am all for proper support of victims in all sorts of ways, but the views of victims should not be allowed to distort the exercise of justice in our society. We have been creeping in that direction, which is almost going back to a retaliatory view of the exercise of justice. It was Gregory the Great, a Pope 1,500 years ago, who said that God visits unruly societies with harsh Governments. We have become a more unruly society. In 1940, the prison population was 10,000. Today it is 80,000. One way or another, we have become a more unruly society and the tendency then is for more harsh government. To some extent, that is unavoidable because of the dynamics, but it must be fought lest we give in to improper popular pressures.

We must recognise the existence of the underclass and in everything we do seek to ameliorate that great change in our society in the past 25 years.

My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has secured this debate. I congratulate her on introducing it with such passion about constructive and reparative measures, with which I completely agree.

I want today to focus my remarks mainly on the relationship between reoffending and drug use. I declare an interest as the chair of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse. There are interesting and useful examples of what works in drug treatment, as well as some challenges, including how to organise drug treatment in prison.

We also need to look at why people offend in the first place—to look upstream, not just at the deltas referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. The reason clearly lies in society. The Government have done much to support families and young people and some of those efforts have not yet lasted long enough for us to know whether they will have an impact on future offending. I refer to such initiatives as Sure Start and the ideas set out in the youth Green Paper. Perhaps the Minister can update the House on progress with the Green Paper.

To cite the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, there is good, hard evidence that drug treatment works, as pointed out in a number of reports, including the Healthcare Commission report of 2006. It can improve health, reduce reoffending, reduce the risk of death through overdose or infection, including blood-borne viruses and improve social functioning. With focused initiatives from my agency, the number of people using drug treatment has risen by 113 per cent since 1998-99. Waiting times have decreased and staffing for services has increased.

Of course, challenges remain. For example, only about half of drug users access treatment. Since March 2002, new funding from central Government has tripled. A clear focus on improvement with funding and monitoring can work. I hope that in the new drug strategy due next year, there will be a specific focus on prisons and reoffending. Frankly, healthcare in prisons leaves much to be remedied. Let us hope that its transfer to primary care trusts will improve matters, but vigilance and monitoring will be needed.

There are clear success factors in drug treatment. Let me name one or two of them. Clients must be able to access treatment quickly and should be retained in treatment for at least 12 weeks. The client should be involved in the choice of treatment that he or she receives—be it residential, rehabilitation or a methadone maintenance script. There must be planned exits from treatment and improvements in integration into the community through housing, employment and support for the person who has either become drug-free or is on a maintenance system. As we know, for those in or leaving custody, those criteria are not always met, although I believe that more than 100 prisons now have structured drug treatment programmes.

In addition, the drug interventions programme provides engagement in treatment and case management. In Nottinghamshire, for example, in 2003 it was estimated that 65 per cent of acquisitive crime was committed by drug-fuelled offenders. Under the drug intervention programme in Nottinghamshire, 73 per cent of clients have not reoffended since their initial contact, most of them for more than six months. We know that many people in prison are drug offenders or have mental health problems.

The intensive resettlement and after-care provision scheme developed by the Youth Justice Board in 59 local authorities has significant potential to reduce the number of young people who return to custody. There will be an interim report on the scheme in March this year, which we await with interest. It is crucial that young people do not become trapped in a cycle of crime and deprivation.

The drug rehabilitation requirement is a viable alternative to custody. It offers courts an intensive and effective vehicle to tackle the drug misuse and offending of many of the most serious and persistent drug-misusing offenders. There are risks related to treatment capacity and the robustness of funding arrangements for the integrated drug treatment for prisons—issues that we will need to watch.

Interagency co-operation is vital. That is improving in many areas, but that improvement needs to be maintained to give seamless care to those in custody. Another issue which we emphasise at the National Treatment Agency is involving users and carers in developing treatment systems. I wonder how much offenders are engaged in developing the systems that they go through. I should be pleased to receive any information on that.

Offending and reoffending are costly and demoralising. If people offend, they need to be able to rehabilitate through education, healthcare—including drug treatment—and through a pathway of care that will give them a place in society and out of the terrible cycle of reoffending.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing this subject to the attention of the House. I have a nagging suspicion that there will be a degree of agreement in this debate which probably will not reach the level of conflict and disagreement usually required to get a debate going. There is great consensus in this field about the fact that, unless we do something to stop the cycle of reoffending, we cannot build enough prisons—not until we have taken away rather more of the green belt than is planned for housing. We do not seem to be able to stop it. Governments get tough to deal with problems or perceived problems. They flex their muscles; they shout at the judiciary; the judiciary puts a few more people in prison; the papers then decide to run a few more scare stories; and the cycle goes on.

We must look at why the same people are going through the system more quickly, which is what we are trying to address. I turn my attention to a component of the prison population: the number of dyslexics. Almost everyone in the debate will agree that many prisoners have few qualifications and skills and little training capacity. This is particularly common among repeat offenders. The Minister may sigh inwardly as I go into this subject again, as I have mentioned it in the past. He is nodding: well, thanks.

A new study was just brought to my attention. It was undertaken by Jackie Hewitt-Main at Chelmsford Prison, where a new approach has been taken. The study found that 53 per cent of prisoners going through that prison had dyslexia or dyslexic tendencies—a high enough figure to cause alarm and draw attention, anyway. The main problem was how to access support and help. Jackie Hewitt-Main went on to note that six out of 10 people were not accessing support, and that most of them were dyslexic. She found that the process of studying and support for someone who has failed in the classroom was a problem. Such people do not like the classroom, because they have been told in their childhood that they are a failure, and, indeed, that their brain is no good, because everyone knows that the measure of intelligence is the ability to master reading and writing. Their dislike is probably understandable. The group gained access to studying through mentoring. Initially, Jackie herself acted as a mentor to people by explaining the problem to them and then encouraging them to enter the system. But one person, no matter how inspiring, has limitations. The real revelation here was successfully training other inmates to be mentors and getting them to speak to other prisoners so that they could enter the education system, too.

A system like this deserves careful study, because it does not have the usual fallback of throwing more resources at the problem. The basic component of the exercise is prisoners. Prisoners are told that they can help someone else because they have the same type of condition and so can understand the problem and explain it to others. This seems to be working. It is a new project, and has to be studied long-term. Will the Government give an undertaking to consider such a self-help system? The fact that you can bring people to the point where they will access the help provided must be a great step forward. If six out of 10 prisoners would rather be in their cells than take classes, is that not a condemnation of what is going on now? People who are unemployable, and who will therefore always be at the bottom of the economic pile with very little respect and very little stake in society, are almost guaranteed to reoffend or at least be at great risk of reoffending. If the Government could indicate to me that they are prepared to consider this type of self-help scheme, I would be very grateful and interested to see how it goes. Unless we take a slightly more sideways approach, we get into an argument in which the Government have to be tough on crime and build a few more prisons, but we say, “No, you must throw more resources at it”. Surely this is one way in which we can square a circle.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, on securing this important debate and on her marvellous introductory speech, which covered so much important ground. I am also at one with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in that I sympathise with the mess in which the Home Secretary has found himself, although my sympathies run out when I hear him criticising the probation officers in front of prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs, because that is not a very sensible way to go.

I propose to take a slightly indirect route in my contribution, because this is an auspicious day for some of us, including the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, on the Front Bench opposite. Some 49 years ago, I was commissioned into a regiment called the Rifle Brigade, which was awarded more VCs than any other regiment in the Army. Some eight years later, I fired the last round in action by the Rifle Brigade into Indonesia on 31 December 1965, and early after midnight on the following day, I fired the first round in action by the Royal Green Jackets into the same place.

Yesterday, the Royal Green Jackets ceased to exist, and today is the birthday of a new regiment called the Rifles. I take this opportunity to wish well all those who are currently serving and due to serve in it. I mention that not only to remember the traditions and all the good things that the former regiments—the Royal Green Jackets, the Light Infantry, the Devon and Dorsets, and the Royal Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Berkshire—have done in the past, but to point out that that amalgamation of four fairly unlikely candidates has been brought about by the fact that there is a structure to manage the transition, that good operational practice has been brought into the new regiment, merging all that is good from all of them, and, finally, that the advice of the people currently serving in it has been taken in the formation of the new venture.

Why is that important? It is important when we consider the huge numbers currently swamping our prisons and the Probation Service and presenting figures of failure because of the appallingly high reoffending rate of 67 per cent of adult males. What concerns and appals me when I consider that and think about what could and should be done is how much good advice is not being listened to. Rethinking Crime and Punishment, an organisation that ran under the distinguished chairmanship of the noble Baroness and in which I had the great pleasure to serve as a member, said that stronger links should be made between organisations running alternatives to prison and the communities they serve by extending the role of youth offender panels and creating mechanisms through which communities decide on the nature of community work to be done by offenders. That was sensible advice and was backed up by practical evidence.

Towards the end of last year, the Local Government Association published a marvellous report, Neighbourhood by Neighbourhood, in which it said:

“The Coalition on Social and Criminal Justice believes that the key to successful transition from prison to living back in the community is councils, health service, probation, police, Job Centre Plus, housing associations and the voluntary and community sector working together. They can provide the continuous and consistent management that individual offenders need”.

Set against that is the report produced two days ago by my successor as Chief Inspector of Prisons, saying that in 2005-06,

“inspections found that some prisons still did not have a current resettlement strategy, and most did not have one that covered the specific needs of all the prisoner groups in their population. Though some needs analysis had been carried out, in general there was insufficient objective analysis and poor use of data. Management structure and practices remained weak: many inspection reports referred to a lack of strategic focus in the prison’s resettlement policy”.

In November, the Probation Boards Association, commenting on what is currently facing it, said:

“Money spent on breaking up the probation service and on transaction costs in relation to commissioning from a multitude of providers would be better spent on boosting the probation service and its partners.

The Home Office, rowing in the opposite direction to the Department of Health, the Department of Communities & Local Government and the Department for Constitutional Affairs, ignores the value of local citizen centred governance in creating a sense of ownership and building confidence in the management of offenders”.

For years, the received wisdom has been that being near home, a job and a stable relationship are the three factors most likely to prevent reoffending, all of which are put at risk by imprisonment.

It is said that any fool can criticise, and fools usually do; I do not want to fall into that trap. In responding to the challenge, I should like to suggest some things that the Government can do to help them out of this, because there is no short-term solution—there is a long one. Let us remember the initiative of NOMS and its intention of having end-to-end management. We all agree with that. But, for heaven’s sake, drop the so-called NOMS. Get rid of it, because it is getting in the way. Make the prison and probation services fit for purpose in the way that many people have been asking for years. Use the existing criminal justice boards around the country to focus local attention on local needs. Retain the probation boards, which are a key part of that in planning resettlement, and establish male and female adult offender teams on the line of youth offender teams to provide supervision for low-level offenders. Listen to what is going on locally, bring in local activities, local industry and local services, and keep people as near to home as possible. It is easy to say all that, but I cannot help reflecting that it is less than two years since the Rifles was ordered into being. It is there now, with young men in Iraq at this moment.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness on making it possible for us to have this debate. The current rate of reoffending not only blights lives and damages communities, but it also costs taxpayers an estimated £11 billion a year. That is on top of the £770 a week it costs to keep someone in jail, after which around seven in every 10 reoffend within two years. If the public better understood how much money is wasted on locking up those who do not need to be there, they would demand immediate change. Of course those who are guilty of serious and violent crimes need to be locked up. But why is it that, although crime is falling, there is a record number of people in our prisons?

We send more people to prison—and return them there—than any country in western Europe. Why? I believe that there are two main reasons. First, while people are in prison, nowhere near enough is done to tackle some of the issues which helped to put them there: mental health problems, drug and alcohol abuse, joblessness and homelessness. Secondly, sentences do not make enough use of a range of community sentences. More people are being sent to prison who simply do not need to be there. Those who end up in prison are people with the highest levels of disadvantage; for example, they may have been in care, excluded from school, be without skills and jobs or be homeless. Perhaps most worrying is the number of people in prison with mental health problems. Around five in every 100 of the general population have mental health problems; in the prison population, it is an astounding 70 in every 100. No wonder Mr Geoff Dobson, the distinguished deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust, said this week that the Government,

“fails to recognise the use of our jails as a social dustbin”.

Unless and until cash and trained personnel are put in place to deal more effectively with these roots of crime, the Government simply will not achieve their goal of cutting reoffending by 10 per cent by 2010.

There is nothing new in any of this. I have been taking part in these debates for more than 30 years, but successive Governments gaily build more prisons in the vain hope of reducing overcrowding. It is rather like widening roads to ease congestion. In both cases, the traffic increases. Why do sentencers send 50,000 people a year to prison for less than six months? It is partly a response to the ill informed clamour of some sections of the press, but mainly I believe it is because sentencers do not have enough faith in community sentences. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, who is such a distinguished trustee of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, for sending me a copy of the report on work done with Crown Court judges in the Thames Valley to give them real and rewarding experience of community-based alternatives to prison. I understand that similar work is now being done with magistrates.

There are many excellent community-based schemes around the country, but the Probation Service in particular needs the money and the manpower to build on success and to spread it. The report on neighbourhood action to reduce reoffending published by the Coalition on Social and Criminal Justice sets out many examples. The Merseyside probation service team worked with the city council and the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service to give five teams of offenders the job of removing materials which might be taken for Guy Fawkes bonfires. The number of such anti-social behaviour bonfires fell in that year by 44 per cent. The same probation service team, along with the city council and the local BBC radio station, helped offenders to make planters from recycled wood, which were then sold for £10 a time and gave offenders new skills leading to an NVQ. A scheme for those released from Deerbolt Young Offender Institution, run by the Depaul Trust in Durham, cut reoffending in half by helping with housing, training and work.

Perhaps the best known work is that of National Grid in some prisons to help train offenders for the jobs it needs done outside. Its work should be copied by other major employers in both the private and public sectors because they too benefit from lower reoffending rates. As the coalition’s report stresses, more use has to be made of local community facilities to offer ex-offenders housing, training, jobs and treatment for addiction. It is the lack of these things which helps to propel ex-offenders back inside, and community-based alternatives to prison can help the public to understand that they are not a soft option. Offenders get that in too many prisons now, where overcrowding cuts rehabilitation and education work and leaves them lying on their beds for most of the day.

I want this Government to give more attention, cash and trained personnel to schemes aimed at rehabilitation alongside punishment. Cutting reoffending can rebuild lives, lower crime even more, prevent families and communities suffering grief and damage, and save the taxpayer money. I want the Government to give the lead to help achieve these results.

My Lords, it is just over two years since my noble friend Lady Linklater raised crime prevention in the context of her report, Rethinking Crime & Punishment. She is now giving us an opportunity to return to the same themes and to revisit the consensus we found then that too many people were being sent to prison for too long. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, that providing an extra 8,000 places in prison is a counsel of despair and not a solution to the problem. It has been said repeatedly that many of those given custodial sentences are people with mental illnesses or impairments, or suffer from drug and alcohol dependencies. They would be more appropriately treated in other kinds of institutions with the expertise and resources to deal with their particular problems.

I am sure that noble Lords were as horrified as I was by the case of Angela Schumann, who jumped off the Humber Bridge with her two year-old daughter. Miraculously they survived, although Mrs Schumann was severely injured. Nevertheless, she was sent to prison. That is an extreme example of the thousands who are imprisoned when they ought to be receiving care and treatment.

The Lord Chief Justice has said that jail sentences should be imposed only when absolutely necessary, bearing in mind that prison overcrowding is proving “absolutely fatal” to inmates’ treatment. Yet the courts have not listened, until very recently when there have been one or two cases where non-custodial sentences have been imposed on non-violent offenders, only to be followed by the usual tabloid hysteria. It has to be noted that some editors have contributed to the present crisis by their pressure for tougher sentencing, as the right reverend Prelate reminded us.

The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, also referred to the paradox of a steadily increasing prison population and reducing crime rates over the past few years. There have also been plenty of constructive proposals on how to reduce the numbers in prison without further compromising the safety of the public. Indeed, there is no shortage of proposals such as the ones outlined by the noble Lord, as well as the Prison Reform Trust’s seven-point agenda for reducing overcrowding. But we have never heard Home Office Ministers from the Front Bench properly addressing this huge spectrum of proposals which would enable us to save the £1.5 billion that we are going to waste on extra prison places and use in a constructive way instead.

Again paradoxically, the effect of the ever-increasing numbers in prison is to reduce public safety. The chief inspector has said that overcrowding is having a significant impact on rehabilitation programmes and the director general backs her up. A prison officer wrote to me this week stating:

“Staffing levels are not being increased to reflect the workload at every level … the management conversations I hear are driven by the need to move people on … rather than by what serves rehabilitation or ‘reducing reoffending’—our nominal priority”.

Prisoners are routinely being kept far away from their homes, as the noble Lord has reminded us, severing the family contacts that are an essential ingredient of rehabilitation. A prison head of operations has written to me about a prisoner whose wife and children live in Ramsgate saying:

“I regret that due to extreme population pressures we have been unable to facilitate a transfer on compassionate grounds to the South East”.

It would be impossible to run programmes dealing with offending behaviour or drug and alcohol misuse when governors and staff are continually occupied in crisis management. But, even worse, as Anne Owers said in her annual report, this is happening at a time when constraints on public spending mean that funding for drug treatment—I ask whether this applies to alcohol as well—is 60 per cent less than was hoped for. The Prison Service has a so-called “alcohol harm reduction strategy”, but the title is misleading because there is no money behind it.

It is even more depressing that, although the Cabinet Office estimated that alcohol harm cost the nation £7.6 billion in terms of crime in 2001, the Government have made the situation worse by encouraging all-night drinking and by failing to increase duties on alcohol in line with inflation. It is generally recognised, as it has been in this debate, that drugs are linked to serious crime and that their misuse needs to be addressed both in prison and in the community. But alcohol is thought of as harmless and therefore routinely embedded in social and public life. The Government deliberately threw away the only mechanisms that would reduce its consumption—price and availability. Alcohol misuse is not tackled vigorously as a generator of crime, ill health and family dysfunction. As a result, habitual alcohol misusers form a large proportion of those who come before the courts repeatedly.

Reoffending will inevitably increase, as a combination of rising numbers and inadequate funding impairs the quality of life in prisons. The chief inspector rightly calls this an alarming and potentially extremely damaging contribution. I hope the Minister will respond to her repeated warnings and those of my noble friend today.

My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, on the theme of reparation, which I think is rather dear to her heart.

Restorative justice has had official approval at least since an Act was introduced in New Zealand in 1989. It has spread through the English-speaking world and now includes countries such as Austria and Norway. Despite experiments in places as different as Texas, Minnesota and Northern Ireland, the concept is still not very well known here, except perhaps among practitioners. I will therefore try to define restorative justice.

It usually involves a form of mediation between offenders or anti-social people and their victims or those who have suffered damage or harm. Mediation also takes place between the offender and the wider community aimed at reintegrating the offender into society. It provides for dialogue and negotiation with a view to problem solving and, if possible, full resolution.

I argue that restorative justice has a major potential for reducing reoffending and can be an alternative to some custodial punishments. I say this because it aims to bring about a positive change within the offender. Instead of their making excuses or putting up defences, offenders and anti-social people are helped to acknowledge wrongdoing and to understand the impact of their conduct on individuals, families and neighbours. They are encouraged to accept responsibility for their behaviour. That can be life-changing, and has led to some amazing reconciliations.

The usual steps forward are agreements, which are sometimes acceptable behaviour agreements, apologies and acts of reparation, whether to individuals or to the wider community. Restorative justice can work at many different levels. I have personally seen it at community or street level, in Belfast, but also at Crown Court level in London. It can operate with petty offenders, often diverting them away from the courts and preventing their acquiring a criminal record. Thames Valley Police, who have been mentioned, have pioneered restorative and conditional cautioning over several years, with Home Office evaluation. The consensus view seems to be that restorative methods are probably best applied by independent people, and that it may be wise not to use police stations for that purpose.

At the other end of the scale, restorative justice methods can be effective with serious offences and violent crime. They have been used successfully with cases of driving under the influence of drugs or drink, sexual abuse, assault and murder. The methods can help even where the victim and offender do not actually meet, or only do so by proxy; for example, with the help of a relative of the victim.

The surprising and encouraging fact is the general satisfaction that restorative justice has produced. In Minnesota, for example, the juvenile reoffending rate fell from 72 per cent to 33 per cent, with high approval from victims, parents and offenders. In one part of Belfast, 86 per cent of young people to whom these methods were applied agreed a contract within one month, and 64 per cent of them completed it within six months. In another part of Belfast, more than 80 per cent of 500 cases reached a satisfactory resolution. I am glad to say that, under the 2002 Northern Ireland Act, all offences short of indictment can be diverted if that is considered appropriate.

Most people agree that human rights standards must always be respected as restorative justice is developed. That may mean that the offender is legally represented. The processes need to be adequately funded. I hope the Government are listening. Surely, for example, training and supporting volunteer mentors and facilitators will be far cheaper than building and staffing even more prisons. Do the Government favour having a national body to develop restorative justice at all levels?

I welcome the 2003 consultation paper, but must go on to ask: what is the Government’s policy following the responses to that paper? Do they agree that the restorative approach to both petty and major crime will help prevent reoffending? It appears that the Home Secretary is in agreement, since he has been trumpeting the many millions of hours of compulsory community work so far done by offenders.

My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, not only for this debate but because of all the work she has done on offending and its prevention. Today’s debate provides me with an opportunity to revisit criminal justice territory after my purdah period as a Health Minister. As someone who has worked closely with a former Home Secretary as his policy adviser and set up and chaired the Youth Justice Board for five years, I probably have more sympathy for Home Secretaries than many speakers today.

I want to draw on the experience I had at the Youth Justice Board and try to apply some of its approaches more widely. I shall start with where I left the board in 2003. It had multi-agency youth offending teams, strong and growing prevention programmes and restorative justice, which I strongly support and to which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, drew our attention. It had tough supervised community sentences. I make no bones about saying that we wanted tough community sentences: it was the right thing to do. They were being accepted by the courts as an alternative to custody. In 2003, when I left, we had a falling custodial juvenile population. This had been achieved not by listening to some of the vested interests in the criminal justice system and allowing the Probation Service to monopolise the management of youth offending teams. We were imposing increasingly demanding contracts on the Prison Service; we were seeking a wider range of service providers than the usual suspects; and we were doing something which had been discouraged by the Home Office and the then Lord Chancellor’s Department by working closely with sentencers. We were engaging with them and doing dangerous things such as talking to them and publishing information about their sentencing patterns. This was not the traditional approach which criminal justice had favoured. I was sorry to see my successor at the Youth Justice Board leave his post recently, but I was equally sorry to see that the trajectory on juvenile custodial use had gone in the opposite direction from that which I had left.

I cite perhaps immodestly what worked for juveniles, because it has wider lessons for us. I tried unsuccessfully to get people interested in applying the approaches in that system, mutatis mutandis, to women and other adult young offenders. Those approaches could be applied to a much wider group of offenders. However, it would mean radically changing the established processes of working through the probation and the prison services. It would certainly mean fully implementing the recommendations in the report by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, imposing a real purchaser-provider split, and demanding contracts for those providing custodial and community programmes. We sometimes take a rather rose-tinted view of some of those programmes which have been applied over the years by the Probation Service and the Prison Service. A more rigorous system of contestability would be needed to produce more credible community penalties which would reverse sentencers’ propensity to use custody, as the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, rightly identified. In the short term, we need to focus on credible alternatives to custody for remands, foreign prisoners, women and elderly prisoners. One of the more surprising features of my time in the Home Office was a proposal for geriatric wards in some prisons. This did not seem to be necessarily the right way forward.

This model of a mixed economy of service providers has been applied to social care; it is being applied in health and education; and its rapid extension would benefit prison and probation services. To produce a real change in the pattern of offending and reoffending, we may need a new concordat with sentencers, possibly in relation to the 2003 Act, and an even heftier dose of robust commissioning and provider contestability in sentence disposals. As a number of noble Lords have said, we need to increase the involvement of local government and social enterprise, as well as of the private and voluntary sectors, in service provision for offenders. Doing this more at arm’s length from the Home Office, as we did in the Youth Justice Board, would achieve more local ownership of problems and solutions—it might even improve the lifestyles of Home Secretaries.

We are moving into a period when growth in public expenditure seems likely to slow down, and public service efficiency has to improve more rapidly. Criminal justice cannot exempt itself from that environment. Doing more of the same is likely to be not only unworkable, but unaffordable.

My Lords, I, too, add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Linklater for the way in which she introduced this important debate this afternoon. I am not going to talk about alternatives to custody so much as alternative custody and about a prison that all those in the criminal justice field will know but few others will. I refer to Grendon Underwood, near Aylesbury, which is run as a therapeutic community.

Grendon fits into this debate because there is clear evidence showing that its regime contributes to a lower rate of reoffending, although that is not an easy calculation as prisoners as a whole go back into the prison system after spending varying lengths of time there. It was founded 47 years ago, when the prison population as a whole was 30,000. It is a category B prison and has 230 male prisoners serving medium or long sentences for serious offences. They are all volunteers from other prisons, and about half could be classified as psychopaths, some having a dangerous and severe personality disorder. Before being admitted, they have to be assessed for at least two months to see if they are suitable for the therapeutic regime. Many have above-average intelligence, but all must be prepared to talk about their behaviour and why they committed their particular crime.

The wing communities are run along democratic lines with elected prisoners, supervised by staff, leading group therapy sessions and challenging one another about their past. There is no one-to-one therapy. The inmates' toughest critics are each other. It has been said that they are able to challenge and ferret out evasions and dissembling with a tenacity and vigour that far surpasses what the therapists can muster. In particular, they are not impressed with an inmate simply saying that they are sorry for what they did. They have to demonstrate real penitence and an awareness of exactly what they have done—to their victims, victims' families, and their own families—to satisfy their peer group. As Anne Owers says in her latest, very favourable, report:

“Often for the first time, prisoners will be made to confront the true hideousness of their crimes—over half Grendon's prisoners are murderers”.

Psychodrama has a place, with inmates playing all the necessary parts. When a particular inmate's crime is the subject of the drama, he has not only to re-enact the crime, but to become the victim. No wonder the phrase was used again and again that Grendon is not a soft option. “It's the hardest thing I've ever had to do”, is a familiar comment. My noble friend Lady Linklater and I visited Grendon two months ago, and were impressed by the culture of respect between prison staff and inmates—first names are always used—and the calm and purposeful atmosphere pervading the particular wing we were taken to. One inmate said to us, “Opening yourself up is like falling off a cliff but at Grendon you are caught and held”.

It is now well established that reconviction is related to length of stay at Grendon. By calculating reconviction rates adjusted for initial risk and mode of leaving, it has been estimated that a stay of at the very least 18 months and preferably two years at Grendon might produce a reduction in reconviction rates of about one-quarter. Of Grendon men serving life sentences, 8 per cent were reconvicted in four years, which is one-third of the rate that would be expected on the basis of their criminological characteristics, and is statistically significant.

The more one hears about Grendon the more one wonders why there are not more dedicated therapeutic prisons in this country. In view of the fact that it is now well understood that society must address urgently, the whole question of reoffending by those suffering from severe personality disorders, it seems incredible that there has been a serious erosion of funds to a place as valuable in this endeavour as Grendon. There is now a serious shortage of suitably qualified staff, and cuts have had to be made in the provision of therapeutic services to inmates. Why is it that Grendon, despite providing an excellent service under such rigorous financial constraints, is not able to access any NHS funding to help with staff costs, despite the cost savings to the Treasury of a cut in the rate of reoffending? The funding allowance for Grendon prisoners is about £38,000 per annum. In Rampton and Broadmoor, the allowance exceeds £190,000.

I end by quoting two sentences from the IMB report:

“The Board fears that continued general underfunding at this level plus ever-tightening financial constraints of the type experienced this year will inevitably lead to a major dilution in the quality of therapy at Grendon. The Board recommends that the Minister should review the level of funding that HMP Grendon receives”.

I say “Amen” to that.

My Lords, I join others in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, for sponsoring this debate and for the tour d’horizon that she gave in her opening remarks. As I am batting rather late in the batting order of this team, it leaves me with not a great deal to say.

I shall focus on what I consider are the five main non-custodial avenues open to the courts: monetary fine, which has not yet been mentioned; tagging, which I do not think has yet been mentioned; anti-social behaviour orders; community orders; and probation orders. I gloss over volunteer mentoring and restorative justice, not because they are unimportant and not because, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, those issues and others do not hold out promise for the future, but simply because time is against it in a debate of this length.

All those five avenues fail in one way or another not because the concept is wrong and not because the aims are outmoded or irrelevant but because in each and every one of them the approaches are no longer accorded sufficient priority—not enough effort, money, staff, emphasis or co-ordination. Tagging is a case in point. The concept has not changed in a decade or so—the decade that we have used it—and neither has the technology. It can operate only within the offender’s own home, close to a telephone system. Typically, the offender is required to be at home, virtually imprisoned, for about 12 hours of the evening and night, and can roam free during the day without any check on where he goes being possible. The result is virtual imprisonment at home for long periods and non-supervision for the rest of the time, with all the opportunities that offers for reoffending. At just over £2,000 a time, for some offenders tagging is cost-effective and successful, but mostly it is a crude tool. Technology has moved on. I declare an interest as chairman of a company—one of many companies—that manufactures equipment that could be used in this field. Technology can now track individuals anywhere, pinpointing their whereabouts to as short a distance as three metres, and can be linked to an individual computer programme tailored to the offender that will cover the full 24 hours anywhere, giving both the rigour of tight supervision and flexibility. It would be a huge improvement on what we have today at virtually the same cost.

Magistrates have largely given up imposing fines as a realistic penalty because they expect that the fine will be unpaid and eventually written off. This was not always the case. Courts administrators no longer see this as part of their core business and cynical non-payment is all too often the result. But firm determination can rectify that position. Merseyside is an example of this. Non-payment of fines was the norm in Liverpool. It was a bad joke. Only 12 per cent of warrants for non-payment of fines were executed, the other 87 per cent went unexecuted and therefore unpaid. In 2002, the warrant enforcement function in Merseyside was outsourced to a large private security company and within three years 71 per cent of the warrants for non-payment were being executed and the fines paid. That percentage grew rapidly; it was a success story. For reasons that are not altogether clear, the Department for Constitutional Affairs decided to take the warrant enforcement function back in-house. I understand that the percentage of executed warrants in Merseyside has begun to slide remorselessly back towards the pitiful level that was seen originally. The message is simple; proper outsourcing to competent, commercial concerns can bring debt recovery under proper control and once again offer the fine as a realistic option.

What of ASBOs, community orders, probation orders and the like? They are all different, but they all have one essential set of ingredients. They all require a proper degree of supervision and management, and appropriate staff trained to an appropriate level and in appropriate numbers. All those orders have been largely devalued in recent years, to a point where they are often seen by the offender as a minor irritation.

On some community programmes, recidivism runs as high as 90 per cent. The reoffending rate for males on probation, for other than the most serious offences, is around 60 per cent. All too often, the ASBO or the community order is seen as a badge of honour. The fast reducing impact of the Probation Service in implementation across the range is alarming. The diversion of its resources into management functions is pitiful. In 2000, approximately 70 civil servants made policy for the Probation Service. In three years, by 2003, that number had risen to 500 or so in the probation directorate. Now the figures are blurred, with the creation of the National Offender Management Service, which has seen a staggering increase of 1,600 new posts created for probation and prison matters, on top of the staff who were already in post. All the time, the service at the sharp end diminishes. The average offender on probation receives only an hour a week at most face to face with his probation officer. Yet, when resources were adequate and locally directed, the Probation Service in this country was an exemplar for the rest of the world to follow, and we were proud of it, and reoffending was minimal.

A challenging vicious circle has developed, in which the collapse of the fine as a penalty has raised the sentencing threshold so that offenders who would have been fined are now sentenced to supervision or community orders, and those who a decade ago would have received a community sentence now serve custodial sentences. It is no surprise, therefore, that prisons are full to capacity, and we have to find a way back. There is nothing wrong with the range of options in the courts at present; nothing that proper resourcing and close, local attention to communities—I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—cannot solve. Without it, and with a continued growth in bureaucracy and in criminal justice legislation, we can expect to see a further degradation of our already damaged system and further challenges to our high reoffending rates.

My Lords, I agree with every word of the excellent speech made by my noble friend Lady Linklater. I wish to speak about prisons and drug addiction, and I declare an interest as the chairman of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT), a charity that runs two major clinics that provide residential care for addicts. I want to draw the attention of the House to how pressure on prison places has been made worse by an extraordinary failure of government policy in the treatment of drug addicts.

A few years ago, the Government rightly recognised that the best hope of curing addicts was in residential care, and they made more money available, but the way in which that was done has, perversely, led to a decline in the use of residential treatment. First, the money provided was not ring-fenced, and it was used by local authorities and other fund-holding bodies for other purposes. Secondly, drug action teams (DATs) were given targets which they found in practice they could meet most easily and cheaply by maintaining addicts on methadone or by sending them on community programmes that had severe limitations in meeting the needs of those referred. The Home Office, rather late in the day, is now urging DATs and other bodies to send addicts to residential treatment, but referrals are only slowly beginning to recover. The result of this mess is that in some units occupancy rates of residential places fell to less than 40 per cent, which makes them wholly uneconomic.

In a recent answer to my noble friend Lord Avebury, it was denied that there was widespread disinvestment in residential places. That is neither our experience nor that of other charities which offer residential places. Our view has been confirmed by EATA, the representative body for drug addiction charities.

What does this mean? Fewer addicts are cured and the pressure on prisons resulting from drug-related offences, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, pointed out, probably constitute the majority of crimes, has increased. Ironically, at the same time, the National Treatment Agency offered grants from a £54 million allocation for new residential services. That is called joined-up government.

Last October, I asked to see the Home Secretary urgently to discuss a proposal that would reduce the pressure on prison places and ease the financial difficulties of charities providing residential care. It would also save some public money. ADAPT proposed that we should provide some 60 to 70 beds in our clinics for 10- to 12-week courses for early prison discharges and as an alternative to custody. We have considerable experience in this field and our work with addicts was praised by Charles Clarke when he visited one of our clinics about a year ago. We pioneered the bail assessment scheme in the 1990s, which offered drug treatment before sentencing and worked very well. It kept a substantial number of people out of prison and off drugs, until the scheme was abolished in 1996, as a result of Michael Howard’s cuts. We worked with all categories of offenders, including murderers and sex offenders. The scheme that we proposed could have been extended to other residential clinics with similar experience, and we reckon that, over a year, it could save perhaps 1,000 prison places.

I asked to see John Reid because only the Home Secretary could have got such a scheme moving quickly. I had no response. About 14 days ago, after several telephone calls, I was finally told that, by coincidence, a reply from a junior Minister was on its way that day. That was nearly three months after my urgent approach to the Home Secretary. When I was a junior Minister in the Home Office in the mid-1960s, when the Home Office’s reputation was somewhat higher than today—and I am sure that this would have been the view also of the noble Lord, Lord Elton—neither Roy Jenkins nor I would have treated a serious and important proposal by a former Home Office Minister with such disdain and discourtesy.

The reply I finally received was feeble. It told me, as if we did not know, about,

“the relapsing nature of drug addiction”,

and said that very few prisoners could be assessed as suitable for diversion to the non-secure accommodation available. With respect, this is arrant nonsense. Of course, some people undergoing treatment do not complete their course, but the relapse rate on our courses is far lower than that of prisoners released directly into the community.

I have talked to prisoners undergoing rehabilitation courses in prison who are desperate to keep off drugs and who would love to go to a residential treatment centre after completion of their prison course. They know that when they return to their cells at the end of their treatment, the drug barons will have left drugs there to get them back on the habit. On release, most prisoners go back to their own localities, where the dealers are waiting for them.

Does the Home Office really believe that very few of the 80,000 now in jail could safely be diverted to non-secure accommodation? That ignores the experience of residential treatment centres. Offenders undergoing treatment in our residential clinics do not present significant management problems, and the impact on our local communities is minimal. We deal with people under all forms of regulatory orders, such as home detention curfews, drug rehabilitation requirements and the whole range of licences, and, as I said, our patients cover the whole spectrum of criminal offences.

The success of the former bail assessment scheme is highly relevant. Indeed, there is no reason why that scheme should not be reinstated. If the Home Office is concerned about the risk of non-secure residential treatment, surely a good chance of successful treatment getting offenders off drugs is a much better bet than the high risk of offenders becoming more heavily addicted while in prison.

The negative, offhand treatment of our proposals is not only depressing but scandalous. More residential places will be closed; more addicts will commit crimes; more will go to jail for drug-related offences; and our record will be confirmed as the country with the highest prison population, some of the worst prison conditions and one of the highest drug addiction rates in the European Union.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, on introducing this timely debate. A little while ago, Michael Howard, I think, said, “Prison works”. Today, there seems little evidence that a period in prison does anything to rehabilitate the prison population, at least the young offenders. As we have been told, levels of recidivism are of the order of 75 per cent. The noble Baroness called that a failure; indeed, it is a disastrous failure. For young offenders, prison does not work, so surely the time has come to change how we think about juvenile crime.

Juvenile crime and other serious forms of social exclusion are usually caused not by one factor but by a cluster of malign factors in the young person’s life. Noble Lords have spoken about one or two of those factors this afternoon. I will concentrate on two ways in which we could reduce juvenile offending and so reduce the prison population and release resources to give a better service to those who have to be in prison.

The first point goes back into the child’s early years. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said, “Look upstream”. I agree. In 2002, I introduced a debate on juvenile crime. At that time, I concentrated on the importance of the stability, security and secure attachment of the young child in their family life in the first five years, especially in the first three months after conception—that is to say, in the womb—and during the first two years after birth. This is the time in a child’s life when he can learn to love and be loved. He begins to learn how to communicate and to relate to others. These are the building blocks from which are built a child’s self-confidence and his ability to relate to others as he progresses up through nursery school, primary school and secondary school.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, spoke of love. Every child needs to have one or preferably two or even more adults in their lives who love them and whom they can trust. For that reason, we need to do much more to reduce the number of children and young people in this country who grow up in dysfunctional families. We should not for a moment imagine that nothing can be done. A great deal can be done, if only we had the will to do it. One example is drugs, on which the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, spoke.

My second point is the importance of looking after our teenagers. Youth services have been massacred over the past two or three decades, as local authorities have tried to balance their budgets. Many experienced youth workers have retired, the job has become more difficult and the future looks insecure—it is not an attractive job today. Moreover, teenagers today do not want the same kind of youth service that teenagers 30 years ago wanted. There is an urgent need not only to rebuild but to reinvent the nation’s youth services.

Teenagers in full-time secondary school have a lot of time on their hands. They spend only about 28 per cent of their waking hours at school, if you take into the equation weekends and holidays. Where is the balance of their time spent? Some of them go home—they are the lucky ones—but it is important that it is a welcoming home big enough for them to have space to do their homework and play. However, even such children will want space to socialise with their peers as they grow up, and they will need somewhere warm and safe to do that where there are interesting things for them to do.

But for those whose home is overcrowded or where they are not welcomed, the question of where to go is much more difficult. That is especially the case if the family is dysfunctional, perhaps with problems of drug or alcohol addiction or domestic violence or perhaps where four or five siblings by different fathers are crowded into a small home with the mother’s current live-in lover, who does not like them. That is why many young people today are hanging about on the streets, and they are often those facing the greatest difficulties. They have little to do and nowhere to do it.

The Government are planning to spend £1.5 billion on building more prisons. Today, I ask them to consider seriously spending just one-third of that sum on reinventing and rebuilding the nation’s youth services. If they did that, they would not need so many extra prisons; they would save many young people from a life of crime; and they would enrich the lives of many more of the nation’s young people. Surely that would be a more worthy memorial for this Government than just building more and more prisons.

My Lords, I welcome today’s debate, initiated so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, as the subject lies at the heart of the problems currently affecting the British penal system. I begin by declaring an interest as a magistrate for 27 years, now on the supplementary list.

I shall try to keep my use of statistics to a minimum this afternoon, not only because others far more qualified than me have already used very telling ones—always one of the problems of being a tail-end Charlie—but also because this is an area in which statistics abound. Some are precise but, with others, statisticians themselves admit that more needs to be done to achieve absolute certainty about the facts. There are also many complexities and many variables, so that even a comparison between the percentage of reoffenders following a custodial sentence or a community sentence seems to indicate that there is a variable of only about 10 to 15 per cent between the two categories, which is unwelcome news and not enough to satisfy the proponents of each argument.

We are currently giving custodial sentences to about 25,000 more people than we were nine years ago. That is a drab, inescapable fact. By any standards, it is a remarkable increase, and an unsustainable one, given the present level of funding for the Prison Service.

One of the core beliefs in public life, not always accepted by politicians, is that you cannot remove or solve problems by throwing money at them. Recent experience in both the education service and the NHS gives credibility to that view. But I suggest that there is an exception to this rule: the Prison Service. More accommodation, better staffing levels, proper education and training facilities for those inside—all those factors, and more—can help in the fight against reoffending.

Of course, that is only half the story. Let us imagine what could be done if we funded sensibly services that keep people out of prison. Is it worth it? Put cynically, I suppose it is fair to say that there will be few votes in it, but making a big dent in the £11 billion annual estimated cost of reoffending would seem to be a worthwhile enterprise, to put it mildly. At present, according to the Prison Service,

“providing work for prisoners is not currently a central and essential part of the prisons regime”.

It is calculated that about 10,000 prisoners are employed in 300 workshops in the prison estate, with workshops run by charities accounting for some 1,000 more prisoners in 75 prisons. There is not much training there then, I suggest, against a total prison population of 80,000.

What chance is there for meaningful education with an understaffed service and a total prison population of 80,000 of which, as the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, said earlier, it has been estimated that 50,000 are serving a sentence of less than six months? Add to that the prevalence of “churning” within the prison population, an inevitable evil in the never-ending struggle to find places, and meaningful educational progress becomes just a pious hope. The upshot is all too predictable, as the Social Exclusion Unit found. Prisoners not taking part in education or training are three times more likely to reoffend.

It must never be forgotten that many of these prisoners enter the system with an unenviable failure list, such as a lack of literacy and numeracy skills, drug and alcohol dependence and an absence of any kind of normal family life. In all probability, they have been unemployed and, in some instances, may be unemployable. In all these areas, prison could, indeed should, be helping, but offenders are instead turned out, for the most part, as they came in. In some instances, they are even worse off. On the other hand, if they stay in society, properly and intelligently managed and supervised within an appropriate community sentence, the chance of recidivism recedes.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of organising a visit with other noble Lords to the Medway Secure Training Centre, then in its infancy, which had been reported as experiencing staffing problems and other assorted hiccups. In fact, I was agreeably impressed by the commitment and genuine enthusiasm of the staff for a full and varied education programme for the young men. However, at the end of the visit, one took me to one side and expressed his dismay that, once the inmates had gone off site and been released into their local areas, there was no effective follow-up and all the good work was wasted.

As I say, that was some years ago. I hope and pray that matters have changed fundamentally in the intervening years. Certainly, the creation of the National Offender Management Service should, in theory, put an end to such dysfunction in the system, with its concept of end-to-end management. Yet the creation of a large new bureaucratic empire—with, as we have been told, 1,600 new jobs in NOMS alone, for example—and the emphasis on regional management set alarm bells ringing in my ears. I share the scepticism of my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham. How will such management liaise effectively with local authorities and, even more importantly, local communities and local charities? In the north-east and on Merseyside, for example, they have made valiant strides in combating the dangers of reoffending. Again, how will morale within the Probation Service stand up to tampering with probation boards?

These are all crucial questions, which must be answered in the fight against reoffending. It is a fight which we, as a society, cannot afford to lose. To combat it, we must certainly employ fresh and practical initiatives, but we must also surely learn once again to do common-sense things well as part of a communal, joined-up effort across the whole country.

My Lords, the events of the past few days have clearly demonstrated an uneasy relationship between the Home Secretary and the judiciary. Like it or not, it cannot be good for our criminal justice system.

There are two elements at the root of the present prisons crisis. More than 3,000 new criminal offences have been created since the Government came to power—almost one for each working day—and there is the more punitive treatment of offenders by the judges than ever before. The Home Secretary has now seen the light of day, and is recommending more use of alternatives to custody, and I shall concentrate on that. In doing so, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, former chairman of the Youth Justice Board, and to Rod Morgan who followed him, for showing how positive measures can effectively help in diverting young people away from the criminal justice process.

An important contributory factor to the overall crime rate is reoffending by released prisoners: 66 per cent of prisoners are reconvicted within two years of release. However, there is something much deeper than that: it is estimated that ex-prisoners commit around 1 million crimes every year in England and Wales, which account for 18 per cent of all offences. Therefore, if we could make a significant impact on reoffending rates, that could, in turn, make a significant dent in the overall crime rate.

However, it is very difficult for prisons to reduce reoffending when they are overstretched and overcrowded—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. During the past 10 years, the prison population has resembled a fast-moving escalator. The overall number of prisoners rose by 41 per cent and the female prison population nearly doubled. That was not principally because of rising crime, but because of rising punitiveness. A decade ago, courts imprisoned 18 per cent of offenders, but now they imprison 28 per cent and sentences have lengthened. The result is that the proportion of our population behind bars is greater than that of any other major western European country. In consequence, the Home Secretary is faced with a record prison population of 800,000—a figure that is rising—an overflow of more than 400 prisoners in police cells and up to 150 men moving back into an unfit wing at Norwich prison. As we all know, that crisis led the Home Secretary and the noble and learned Lords the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General to make a joint statement to the National Criminal Justice Board pointing to the need for restraint in the use of imprisonment.

As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice pointed out, it is perfectly reasonable for Ministers to draw the courts’ attention to the current shortage of prison accommodation and it is right that courts should take that into account when sentencing. However, the crisis is largely of Ministers’ own making. During the past 13 years, ever since 1993 when Michael Howard became Home Secretary, successive Conservative and Labour Home Secretaries and shadow Home Secretaries have vied to outbid each other in public statements demonstrating their supposed toughness on crime. The courts have responded to the more punitive climate by passing harsher sentences.

If a policy of restraint in the use of prison is right—and I believe that it is—it should not just be a short-term stop-gap policy. It should be a permanent feature of criminal justice policy. There are many ways in which the prison population could be reduced without reducing public protection. In July, in another place, the Home Secretary told MPs:

“It is clear to me that there are people in prison who should not be there. They range from foreign nationals to vulnerable women to those for whom mental health treatment would be more appropriate”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/7/06; col. 473.]

If the Government think that many people in prison should not be there, they should not tell the courts just once, they should keep on telling them. That means that Ministers must send out a strong, sustained and consistent message arguing for the reduced use of prison. That message should be reinforced by legislation requiring sentencing guidelines to take into account the capacity of the prison system. That approach would require political courage, but the alternative is to continue lurching from crisis to crisis in the prison system, which, as the events of the past fortnight have clearly shown, is nothing short of politically disastrous.

One element of the solution must be to tackle the “revolving door” of short-term prisoners. At any one time, 8,000 prisoners are serving sentences of less than 12 months, a point that was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale. Such sentences do little to protect the public because containment periods are short. The time spent in prison is too brief for serious rehabilitation, but long enough for prisoners to lose their homes and jobs, which makes them even more likely to offend. Seventy per cent of short-term prisoners are reconvicted within two years of leaving prison. Many of those prisoners would be better dealt with by intensive supervision in the community. Supervision programmes which challenge and change attitudes to offending help offenders to restrain aggressive and impulsive behaviour, develop employment-related skills and overcome addiction problems, and are more likely to reduce reoffending than other forms of punishment. As long as offenders continue to be imprisoned for short sentences, much more should be done to give them help with resettlement.

The Government recently indefinitely postponed plans for custody plus whereby short-term prisoners would have been supervised by the probation service on release. If custody plus is now off the agenda, the Home Office should instead commission a resettlement service from voluntary organisations for short-term prisoners to reduce the number who keep going back to prison. Another group of mainly short-term prisoners are those on remand, who currently number 13,000.

Many remand prisoners could be safely granted bail if suitable accommodation and support were available for them. I understand that the National Offender Management Service is currently working on a proposal to commission more support services for this group. I welcome this development and hope that it will be implemented as rapidly as possible.

The Government should take steps to reverse the rise in the female prison population, which now stands at 4,400. The Chief Inspector of Probation has criticised some probation areas for failing to provide alternatives to custody tailored to the needs of women offenders. We need to see strong and proactive steps to ensure that every area does that.

A significant proportion of the female prison population consists of poor women from developing countries who have been bribed by drug barons to smuggle in drugs and who have received very long sentences. The impact of drug trafficking on victims is appalling. But drug “mules” are also victims of injustice because sentencing guidelines for these offences do not allow courts to take into account offenders' personal mitigating factors to the same extent as they can for almost all other offences.

We need to stem the flow into prisons of people who have breached community supervision, for example by missing or being late for appointments. Recalled prisoners now make up 11 per cent of the population of local prisons. There should be a graduated scale of punishments for breaches, with prison used only when non-compliance has continued after less severe penalties have been tried.

It is a continuing scandal that 70 per cent of prisoners have two or more mental health disorders and that 5,000 have serious and enduring mental illnesses. The number of juveniles in prison doubled in the past decade to 2,500. The Government should dust off and implement a proposal which they published more than a year ago in their draft Youth Justice Bill. That would have prevented courts from jailing juveniles unless they had first tried an intensive supervision and surveillance programme. We should consider extending a similar provision to adults. The Government should take steps also to reduce the disproportionate number of prisoners from racial minorities. Currently, the minority ethnic population constitutes 25 per cent of the prison population, but only 9 per cent of the general population. We need to look at the reports which demonstrate the extent to which discriminatory practices feature from time to time in some of our courts.

The Home Office aims to build 8,000 more prison places by 2012. But the Government cannot build their way out of the crisis. Since Labour came to power, it has provided 20,000 more prison places, yet we have more extreme overcrowding than ever before. Unless steps are taken to cut the prison population, courts will simply fill new prisons with even more prisoners, providing no relief for currently overcrowded jails. It is like trying to run down an escalator which is moving ever more rapidly upwards. It is time to stop the escalator.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, for securing the debate and for setting us off with such a marvellous speech. I am also grateful to her for sending us the copy of Increasing Competence of Sentencers in Community Sentences by the Thames Valley Partnership.

This could not be a more timely debate. The prisons are full; potential prisoners are walking free following the Home Secretary’s instructions to the judiciary; Professor Rod Morgan, chairman of the Youth Justice Board has resigned, stating that children’s prisons are being swamped; Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, has stated that the Home Office has failed to carry out proper planning; and the police have recorded violent crime increasing year on year.

Conversely, the 2005 sentencing statistics released on Tuesday revealed that the average jail sentence for robbery has fallen to its lowest level since 1998. They also revealed that the overall number of people jailed in England and Wales also fell to its lowest level for seven years. That is rather paradoxical against the apparently inexorable rise in the prison population. The noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, put his finger on it: it is because of the large number of custodial sentences for minor offences—a point fleshed out by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.

On the other hand, jail sentences for violence against the person, drugs offences and criminal damage fell, despite the comments of the current Home Secretary that the Government are constantly supporting tougher sentences in the course of protecting the public. As my right honourable friend David Davis said in another place, the statistics show that, under Labour, fewer offenders are being sent to jail for less time for more serious offences. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester mentioned shoplifting. In 1993, the average number of people in jail for shoplifting was 29; in 2003, it was 1,500. My right honourable friend went on to say that that speaks volumes about the Government's approach to public safety.

This is no longer a crisis. The Home Office and Prison Service are in meltdown. No wonder there is a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system. Lord Coulsfield’s report, commissioned by the Esmeé Fairburn Foundation in 2004, agreed that the Government often fail to take account of the research evidence that they have themselves sponsored, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. Perhaps that explains why, at present, 60 per cent of adult offenders are reconvicted within two years of being released from prison or commencing a community sentence. As we have heard today, for those released from prison, the reoffending rate is higher at 66 per cent and, embarrassingly for the Government, the reoffending rate for those on drug treatment and testing orders stands at an astonishing 89 per cent.

I am sure that we all agree that custodial sentencing is not necessarily ideal. Prison can break up families, impede resettlement and place children at risk of an intergenerational cycle of crime, especially with overcrowding, insufficient prison capacity and the dreaded but apparently inevitable churning to which the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, referred. That seriously undermines attempts to deliver effective rehabilitation. I am sure that we were all impressed by the references to compassion made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and my noble friend Lord Elton.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has previously said—I hope that I cite him correctly—that the three things that are most likely to prevent reoffending are a home, a job and a stable relationship. Programmes that help prisoners to develop skills and maintain contact—that enable all three while providing justice and a deterrent—seem to be the ideal to be aimed at.

The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, referred to community sentencing. It is clear that community sentencing is not working as it should. The think tank Reform states that,

“in some cases the evidence suggests their use needs to be re-evaluated altogether”.

It is vital to develop community programmes with realistic expectations of offenders’ learning abilities. Improperly targeted programmes will, as we can see, worsen rather than improve reoffending. I hope that the Minister will inform the House what steps the Government are taking in the light of those comments.

The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, also referred to restorative justice—also a theme of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton—and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, gave us a moving account of her experiences at Grendon. As the noble Baroness and others have highlighted today, there are some promising approaches that merit investigation. Many have been proposed in Rethinking Crime & Punishment, as well as by the Coulsfield report. I would be interested to know the Minister’s views on those two reports. Indeed, the work to which the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, referred is a spin-off of those reports. It looks at improving the communication and understanding between the judges and probation services so that the sentence-givers have first-hand knowledge of the alternative community programmes. It highlighted the fact that,

“lack of contact in recent years has affected the knowledge of Judges about community sentences and surely it is impossible to expect an increase in confidence without an increase in that knowledge”.

Indeed, I commend to any noble Lord who has not read it the foreword by His Honour Judge Hall in that Thames Valley report, which highlights the communications problems between the judiciary and the Probation Service. It is very short.

I agree so much with the study. Considering the general level of communication in the Home Office, as well as the number of times the Probation Service has been shaken up and rearranged by this Government, it is unsurprising that there are communication problems there. If there has been one theme running through the debate, it is the rape of the Probation Service. Indeed, the continual ignoring of the Probation Service is having a serious negative effect on morale, performance, and the recruitment and retention of probation staff—a significant problem if you are trying to ensure a high level of qualified and well informed staff. This point has been well made not only this afternoon but by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in his admirable evidence before the pre-Bill committee on the Offender Management Bill, convened by my right honourable friend David Davis. The Government have helpfully provided a transcript of the proceedings, which I commend to your Lordships. As a humble national service officer in the Rifle Brigade, I am obviously proud to be associated with the noble Lord’s remarks. He made a very pertinent point in the context of this debate when he asked what can be achieved with the proper, integrated management of joined-up bodies. The Government could well study this and take advantage of it.

Communication is one area that could be addressed. Another is delivery. Your Lordships have discussed the possibility of community penalties and programmes being delivered locally and the need for co-operation between local authorities, mainstream services and voluntary organisations, and I am sure that debates will arise in consideration of the Offender Management Bill. Successful delivery is the key to building confidence in the system. Within this, there is a clear need to try and tailor custodial and community programmes to specific groups. There has been a steep rise in the number of black offenders in recent years. Women are another such group. Shockingly, more than seven out of 10 women in prison say that they have been physically assaulted at some point in their lives, and two-thirds have been sexually assaulted.

This House also often comments on young offenders, more than 70 per cent of whom come from broken homes. This is one area in which the Government have not been tough on the causes of crime. The report of the Social Justice Policy Group, under the chairmanship of my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith, entitled Breakdown Britain, concludes that government thinking here, as on prisons, has been short-term. It says:

“The narrow focus on a wholly inadequate poverty target, followed by complacent trumpeting of supposedly major reductions in poverty, has obscured the scale of the problems that have yet to be tackled”.

Poverty, family breakdown, mental health and drug or substance abuse are all undeniable factors in the lives of those who offend and reoffend. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, commented in the hearing to which I have just referred that he was saddened that the Government are not using the current Mental Health Bill to address the provision for mental health problems in prisons. I hope that the Minister can answer this point in his reply.

On Monday, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, wrote an article in the Times. In the interests of balance, I have to say that he thought that the Home Secretary’s criticisms in his instructions to the judiciary on sentencing were misplaced but, at the end, he gave the Government several pieces of advice. I hope your Lordships will permit me to read them:

“1) For ministers to announce the action they propose to take to deal with the present crisis; 2) The action to include the repeal or suspension of statutory provisions that force judges to use more and longer sentences than are necessary for the public's protection; 3) The Sentencing Guidelines Council to be given a statutory mandate to produce guidelines that will result in an appropriate balance between the places and resources available for those in custody and the number jailed; 4) The Government to review the prison population and, as an emergency measure, release on licence those prisoners who can be released without endangering the public; 5) The resources of the Probation Service to be increased to restore its morale; make community sentences a realistic alternative to custody for non-violent or sexual offenders and ensure proper supervision of those released; 6) No further legislation to be introduced without properly assessing its impact on the prison population”.

I hope that that last point will be not lost on the Government. After reading it, I was tempted to tear up my speech and hope I would not be spotted; but I feel that that says it all. I shall be very interested to hear the Minister’s comments.

My Lords, I should start as everyone has started: by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, on securing this debate and leading it so effectively and passionately, as she always does. It is always a delight to listen to the noble Baroness and, while I do not always agree with everything she says, I certainly admire the passion with which it is spoken. This debate has provided the House with an opportunity to discuss important issues which affect all of us and our communities. We have had before us a dazzling array of talents from a distinguished cast list who have substantial form on this issue and have done a lot of time in different roles.

We have heard two former Home Office Ministers, one in recounting mode; a former chief constable; a distinguished former chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee; and a former Chief Inspector of Prisons. We have heard a Christian perspective and people speaking with experience from work on probation boards. Interest has been shown from former special advisers and we have also heard from a very distinguished chair of the Youth Justice Board. I could go on, but the point is that all contributors to today’s debate come at it from different angles, nevertheless contributing a great deal to this very important debate.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, has said, this week there has been a great deal of interest in the criminal justice agenda—one might say that there has been unparalleled interest expressed, not least in the media. It falls to me at least to address some of the issues which currently occupy much of that media time, particularly and principally, of course, the acute pressure on prison places. As a number of noble Lords detected, in part that pressure is due to serious offenders being significantly more likely to get a custodial sentence. Over the past 10 years, there has been something like a 25 per cent increase in the length of sentences for indictable offences; that is, offences which have been tried in the Crown Court. People who have been sentenced in that way are sent to prison for longer periods than 10 years ago. We now have in place much tighter recall arrangements for those who breach their licence conditions and community orders, to which a number of noble Lords made reference.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, demonstrated, we live within a framework where there is a conundrum: we have a rising prison population but at the same time falling levels of crime, although that fact is not often recognised. We also have some 20,000 more prison places than in 1997, but we have not witnessed the expected shift from custodial to community sentences following the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which is why the Home Secretary, Lord Chancellor and Attorney-General produced a ministerial statement to restate the importance and value of sentencing guidelines.

Just last week the Home Secretary announced the building of a new 350-place prison on Merseyside and we have an additional 8,000 places to be delivered by 2012. That is not news which many noble Lords who have taken part in the debate today would necessarily welcome, but it is an important fact and, like it or not, we must ensure that we make effective use of prison places. As a Government we will continue to assess whether more places are required.

Arrangements for sex offenders have also come under scrutiny during the past few weeks, and I echo the words of the Prime Minister in saying that we have one of the most advanced systems in the world for monitoring and managing dangerous offenders, and those considered to present the greatest risk to the public will come increasingly under the multi-agency public protection arrangements led by the police, probation and prison services. Difficult though it is, we are determined to strengthen arrangements for dealing with sex offenders in the community, which is why the Home Secretary commissioned a comprehensive review of child sex offenders. We will ensure that the public are properly protected from dangerous offenders, and let me be clear that prison places must be and will be available for those offenders. But it is equally vital that non-violent, non-dangerous and non-persistent offenders pay back to their communities the damage they have caused through tough and credible community punishments.

The report by Anne Owers, published last week, was referred to. It rightly highlights a number of concerns about the Prison Service, including, unsurprisingly, overcrowding. However, the report also acknowledges the very significant improvements made over the past five years on key prison issues, including safer custody, education and training, resettlement, healthcare and the treatment of juveniles. More widely, substantial progress has been made in the Home Office on crime reduction. This includes more visible policing, with an 11 per cent increase in police numbers and the publication of a serious crime Bill which includes a serious crime prevention order and measures to try to improve data-sharing to tackle serious organised crime. A reduction in violent crime, bringing more offenders to justice, improving services to victims and witnesses and improved partnership working across agencies have increased public confidence, which is key to the success of the criminal justice system.

However, and despite improvements, we need to improve public confidence in the criminal justice system, and there is clearly still a lot to do. The report Rebalancing the Criminal Justice System in Favour of the Law-Abiding Majority sets out our ambitious but nevertheless practical programme for change. We are working towards a system that gives the law-abiding public much greater involvement in the criminal justice services they receive, starting with ensuring that the needs of victims are properly addressed. The Government have already achieved much in introducing new services for victims and witnesses, such as new rights, better information and better emotional and practical support. In our view, these initiatives must be expanded further and faster.

It is essential that we do more to bring offenders to justice and that the community is more closely involved in that whole process, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, drew particular attention. Judges and magistrates must become much more involved in the communities they serve, as they are in the new criminal justice centres in Liverpool and Salford, supported by local criminal justice boards. I was grateful for the favourable comments of noble Lords on the importance of those leading-edge projects. These will enable the public to ensure that local policing reflects the priorities of the local community.

Community sentencing, which, many noble Lords pointed out, is extremely important, includes the expansion of community payback initiatives—making the “unpaid work” requirement of a community sentence visible to the public and increasing opportunities for local people to have a say in the type of work undertaken. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, referred to that, and 6 million hours were worked last year to benefit communities. The latest initiative is the mayors’ project, announced by the Home Secretary last month, in which probation areas will be working with local authorities and locally elected mayors to identify more and increased suitable opportunities. Other initiatives referred to by the noble Baroness and others include the important Thames Valley partnership pilot funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. These schemes support the work we are trying to take forward to improve local partnership working and contribute to local criminal justice objectives to improve public confidence in how the criminal justice system works.

Our central aim must be to cut crime altogether. Around half of all offences are committed by people who have been through the system before, so reducing reoffending is essential. We are agreed on that. The latest results for adults, published on 9 November last year, show that overall the reoffending rate had decreased by some 3.4 per cent by 2003 when compared with 1997, so at least we can demonstrate that the numbers are going in the right direction. For juvenile offenders we have achieved a reduction in the rate of reoffending by 4 per cent between 1997 and 2004, and 1.4 per cent between 2000 and 2004. These are small but encouraging results, but there is much more that we can do and we have set ourselves challenging targets in dealing with this difficult group of offenders, many of whom come from extremely troubled backgrounds, as many noble Lords have acknowledged.

We have invested some £45 million in innovative targeted prevention schemes for young people who are at risk, focusing on enabling vulnerable young people to gain access to the services that they need. For example, the Youth Justice Board has rolled out 50 resettlement and after-care programmes, which provide intensive support to young people with substance abuse problems.

We have worked to build support and gain cross-government ownership of a comprehensive strategy to reduce reoffending. In July last year, my noble friend Lady Scotland and Phil Hope, the DfES Minister, jointly set up the Inter Ministerial Group on Reducing Reoffending to take responsibility for ensuring the alignment of departmental targets and public service agreements to support the reduction of crime and reoffending, to ensure delivery of agreed cross-government plans and outcomes, and to ensure that they are effectively secured.

In November 2005, the National Reducing Reoffending Delivery Plan set out the key things the Government will do to reduce adult reoffending; at the same time, we launched three reducing reoffending alliances with the corporate, civic society and faith, voluntary and community sectors, involving local people and organisations to support delivery. With the Department for Education and Skills and the Department for Work and Pensions we published the Reducing Re-offending Through Skills and Employment Green Paper and also a “next steps” action plan.

NOMS is committed to implementing a new approach to managing offenders through the entire length of their sentence, where the focus will be unremittingly trained on the offender and what is needed to protect the public and reduce reoffending. We have already rolled out this new offender management approach for offenders on community sentences and licences. In November we commenced a phased roll-out for those in custody, beginning with a high-priority group; namely, those serving determinate sentences of 12 months or more who are assessed as presenting a high or very high risk of serious harm, and also for prolific and other priority offenders. This autumn our next phase of implementation will introduce offender management for prisoners serving an indeterminate sentence, which includes those sentenced to life imprisonment.

As far as possible, each offender will be managed by the same offender manager throughout the sentence. The offender manager is always based in the community, even when the offender is in prison, which helps with preparation for release and reintegration into the community. The offender manager is responsible for assessing the risk of harm and reoffending posed by the offender, for determining which issues need to be addressed to reduce these and for drawing up the sentence plan and ensuring that it is implemented.

The guiding principle for these changes remains, as it has always been, for the highest quality services to be delivered in order to best protect the public and meet the sentencing requirements of local courts and the needs of local communities.

I think I have given a fair picture and reflection of our commitment to reducing reoffending and of some of the important work being undertaken in that regard, but much more must be done. Therefore we remain fully committed to providing a strong and effective Probation Service properly located within the public sector.

Many noble Lords commented about the Probation Service and its change of direction. I suppose I could sum up the debate by saying that essentially many noble Lords called for a return to a more traditional service. However, the public sector cannot do all that it needs to do on its own. By removing the current statutory restrictions, we will give all sectors, private, public or voluntary, the freedom and the opportunity to innovate in partnership and improve overall performance, something the noble Lord, Lord Warner, highlighted. His comments reflected the importance of changing the service to adapt to new circumstances and keeping apace of wider changes in society.

Commissioners in the English regions and Wales, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State and working within existing local partnership frameworks, including, importantly, local strategic partnerships and local area agreements, will be able to contract with the best available provider for different aspects of probation services, and to do so across existing organisational and geographical boundaries.

The Government are committed to reducing crime and its impact on the communities in which we live and work. That is why this debate is so important. During the debate many questions were asked that I shall attempt to address in the remaining minutes that I have.

One important issue raised was the importance and value of family ties. I know it is often observed that in some ways prison does much to undermine family ties, and that that can have an effect on reoffending rates, particularly when people are reintroduced into the community without as much support as we might desire. We have done much to ensure that family ties are kept up when people are imprisoned. We are developing a cross-government approach to improve support for children and families of offenders to reduce the risk of reoffending, because we understand the important part that family life plays for many of those who have to be incarcerated. That work is being overseen by a joint DfES/Home Office steering group, which will report, as I said earlier, to the inter-ministerial group chaired by my noble friend Lady Scotland and Phil Hope. We have committed a considerable sum of money to ensure that that important work with children and families is undertaken.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, focused on the important work on community sentencing and on what methods work. He made an important point: it is valuable that we carry out research that enables us to be supported by good evidence before we commit ourselves to a programme. That is why we have to look across government and at international evidence before embarking on particular approaches to community sentences.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester observed that it was important to build community capacity and involve the voluntary and community sector, something that was reflected in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and others. It is fair to say that the Offender Management Bill will remove some of the public sector monopolies that have existed in service provision. We must endeavour, with NOMS in particular, to put in place well valued partnerships.

On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, we have made good progress in implementing the strategies set out in the Youth Matters Green Paper, and through new legislation we will be placing a duty on local government to consult local young people and provide good-quality recreation facilities that meet their interests and needs. Between 2006 and 2008 it is our intention to invest some £115 million directly into the hands of young people through the new Youth Opportunity Fund and Youth Capital Fund, to enable them to build the services they require.

Much was said about drug support and drug treatment in prison. I shall provide a full response to that in writing. The Government have a good record on drug rehabilitation, to which we have committed substantial funding. The drug rehabilitation programmes are beginning to show improved performance. Completion rates are rising: they were up by 28 per cent to 2003. We are now seeing far higher levels of completion of courses undertaken in prisons. It is vital that that work continues. It will assist us in reducing reoffending rates and provide us with important pathways for the future.

This has been a very important debate. I recognise its value and the sincerity and commitment of everyone involved in it. Although we might all find it hard to agree on how best to ensure good rehabilitation programmes and reduced levels of reoffending, if we pursue the matter in a spirit of informed debate, as we have today, I am sure that outcomes will improve over time. I am grateful to those noble Lords who have taken part in what is an important and continuing debate, which I am sure we will return to on many occasions.

My Lords, I thank everybody who has participated in this extraordinarily interesting and important debate. It has shown the House at its best: its extraordinary wealth of knowledge, wisdom and experience. I hope that the Government have ears to hear. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.